Multiple World Cup sponsors concerned over contracts after Qatar’s alcohol ban

Multiple sponsors have raised concerns or issues with Fifa about their contracts at the Qatar World Cup, the Guardian can reveal. It gives football’s governing body another headache hours after it was forced to ban alcohol from stadiums by the Qatari authorities, a decision that complicated its $75m (£63m) contract with the brewer of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch InBev.

One representative of another major sponsor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that many partners had felt “let down by Fifa in lots of ways”. They also indicated there had been informal discussions about potential contractual breaches and reneging on deliverables.

“Everyone has a gripe in some way or form,” they added. “There is a lot of ‘regrouping’ going [on] to understand what the options are contractually speaking.”

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Earlier Fifa confirmed in a terse statement that alcohol would not be sold inside or around the perimeter of World Cup stadiums.

“Following discussions between host country authorities and Fifa, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Fifa Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters,” it said.

“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero, which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.”

However it will now be looking nervously over its shoulders at the prospect of legal action from Budweiser, unless some sort of compensation can be agreed with Qatar.

Shortly before the announcement the US beer brand sent a tweet – since deleted – that said: “Well, this is awkward…”

The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation, but organisers had promised it would be available in match venues and fan zones – and would be reasonably priced.

However it has now decided that alcohol will be available at matches only in hospitality boxes, where the cheapest suites are nearly £20,000 a match, and in some fan zones after 7pm, where it will cost nearly £12 for 500ml of Budweiser.

According to the New York Times, staff members were told the move had followed security advice but that the change had originated with Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani – the brother of Qatar’s ruling emir and the royal most active in the day-to-day planning of the tournament.

The Guardian also understands another consideration was wanting to make sure the large number of supporters from Gulf and Asian countries, where drinking alcohol is not part of the culture, felt comfortable.

Fans outside the England team hotel ahead of the World Cup
Fans outside the England team hotel ahead of the World Cup. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Until recently organisers had always said that they would find a way to find a middle ground between western fans’ tastes and Qatar’s conservative culture. That message was reiterated most recently by Fatma al-Nuaimi, head of communications for the Supreme Committee, who said: “When it comes to alcohol, hospitality is part of our culture, even if alcohol is not. So it will be in the places where the fans will gather, but not openly on the streets.”

The organisation’s official fan guide also states that “ticket holders will have access to Budweiser, Budweiser Zero, and Coca-Cola products within the stadium perimeter” for at least three hours before games, and for one hour afterwards.

The news was greeted with frustration by the Football Supporters’ Association, which questioned whether the Qataris could now be trusted on their other promises.

“Some fans like a beer at a match and some don’t, but the real issue is the last minute U-turn which speaks to a wider problem – the total lack of communication and clarity from the organising committee towards supporters,” a spokesperson said.

“If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues.”