As Qatar prepares to host 2022’s football World Cup, a decision almost as inconceivable as it was inevitable has been reached – while more than a million fans from around the world are expected to descend on the country to watch the tournament, they’ll have to do so without a pint in their hands.
Less than 48 hours before kick-off, the all-powerful Qatari royal family have changed their minds about allowing alcohol in the stadium. As sponsor Budweiser tweeted (and then deleted): “Well, this is awkward”. Considering their $75m sponsorship deal, that’s one way of putting it. Another might sound more like this: Football without beer – is that even possible?
While Qatar’s conversative Muslim government means the country is largely alcohol-free, concessions had been made for the World Cup with plans to sell beers in the stadium as well as at specially licenced hotels and restaurants. This abrupt change of Qatari heart is maybe not surprising in the grand scheme of things (I mean, if you will hold the World Cup in a practically teetotal country…), but that doesn’t make it any more palatable for fans.
While drinking cultures (clearly!) vary around the world, football and beer are inextricable almost no matter where you look. I don’t like either the sport or the drink, but as someone who grew up mainly in England, the prospect of facing the biggest event in the football calendar with no booze literally made me furrow my brow like I was trying to solve a complicated sum. Seriously, try and imagine England making the same decision as Qatar; to clarify, when I say it is inconceivable, I mean that hell would freeze over before this nation of binge drinking hooligans would even consider banning alcohol from their football games.
Culturally speaking, drinking is as deeply inscribed in the British – and the Germans and the French and the Dutch and the Swedish and the Australians – as abstinence is in the Qataris. It bears repeating that their successful World Cup bid has been enormously controversial (why? Oh, just the accusations of slave labour, the country’s death penalty for homosexuality and its attitude towards women, among other things), but it’s notable that the beerlessness of 2022’s world cup is presently drawing more discussion than the host country’s inexcusable string of human rights violations. If you needed proof of how tightly bound football and boozing are, then surely that’s the motherlode.
Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t say beerless – while the stadium itself will be dry, there have been (hilarious) reports of bars selling drinks for £80 each to particularly desperate tourists who want to watch the games on TV. Meanwhile, for the comparatively low-low price of just £12 a pint, fans will be able to buy up to four drinks to consume in designated ‘fan areas’; if they get drunk, they’ll be escorted away to sober up (in Qatar, being drunk in public is an offence).
With things like ‘spontaneity’ and ‘fun’ thus off the menu, the Qatari authorities can rest easy in the knowledge that no one will ever let them host any international event ever again – but what about the poor sods who’ve already travelled halfway around the world only to find their party well and truly pooped?
Look on the bright side – perhaps a dry world cup will be a good thing. Fans who normally watch matches through a boozy haze will realise how boring football really is; the stupid songs that crowds sing won’t be half as rowsing to sober ears; without the celebrations extending into the wee small hours, everyone will return home as well-rested as they are gloomy.
As globalisation spreads further and further, clashes like this one between conservative Qataris and liberal football fans are increasingly rare on the world stage. There is something far-fetched about this situation, like someone reached into a past era of stereotypes and plucked out the set up for a bad joke: “so when they get to Qatar, the lads can’t drink, right?” The punchline remains to be seen, but I feel pretty certain that it’s not “so they saw the light and never drank again”; i.e., we’re not entering a new era of sober football.
Cultures are made up of eating and drinking norms and sporting rituals as much as attitudes about who can love who or whether women can make decisions about their own lives. As the country’s successful bid has proven, money is the closest that humans have come to a true lingua franca – but just because we’ve collectively handed Qatar the microphone for the next few weeks, it doesn’t mean that they’re included in the global conversation. Whether hosting a dinner party or an international tournament, inflicting one’s own beliefs on others is bad manners on any scale. Cheers.