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  • Writer's pictureIan Pulczynski

Qatar's alcohol ban a blessing in disguise

The absence of publicly available alcoholic beverages in Qatar during the World Cup was something to be celebrated, not frowned upon by critics and fans.

Consumption of alcohol was banned inside 2022 FIFA World Cup stadiums. Source: BBC News

It's no secret that Qatar has its issues, whether corruption, treatment of migrant workers, or tarnishing relationships with neighbouring Gulf countries in the past.

However, an area where Qatar and its organisers should be given credit is the (almost) ban on alcoholic consumption during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

When Qatari and World Cup officials confirmed that alcoholic beverages would not be for sale inside and outside stadiums, fans and media worldwide significantly criticised the decision. It created a mammoth uproar almost unmatched by any other country which had previously hosted football's biggest event.

The then-Secretary General of FIFA, Jerome Valcke, said in 2012 that "alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we're going to have them." He added that it was "something that we won't negotiate."

Despite the international uproar, Qatar remained firm in its traditional Islamic roots. Alcohol across Muslim-majority countries is forbidden and banned in public settings; Qatar didn't give in to the corporate and marketing aspect of FIFA and its sponsors.

The ban on public alcohol consumption was a significant factor in Australians who were tempted to go to Qatar but did not. It was something that drove them away from the event.

But speaking from experience, fans can be fully invested in World Cup football, the pinnacle, without the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is not needed to enjoy the passion, colour, and energy that fans from all corners of the world bring to the stadiums and host country.

The non-presence of alcoholic consumption made sure fans were safe in a family-friendly atmosphere all day and night.

It was impossible to find even a millilitre of alcohol in the popular downtown stations of Msheireb or DECC. Around some of Qatar's most busy metro stations, there were no instances of alcohol-fueled violence - something more challenging to avoid in Sydney on a Saturday night.

Souq Waqif, one of Qatar's most prominent cultural spots, was buzzing every night with Argentinians, Moroccans, Saudi Arabians, and Tunisians. There was no vomiting, anti-social behaviour, slurs, or racial abuse that would typically occur with alcohol.

Inside Souq Waqif, where there were no violent scenes, even after sunset. Source: Ian Pulczynski

But alcohol consumption was still accessible within the State of Qatar, specifically in licensed bars such as The Hive or in licensed hotels such as Mercure. The price was also lower than the pre-tournament media made it out to be.

A bottle of Corona at the Mercure hotel costs 32QR (AUD 13) - cheaper than at any club or pub on a Saturday night in Sydney's CBD.

In the stadium, there were no alcoholic beverages. Should fans want to drink something, the only options were water, soft drinks like Sprite and Coke, and non-alcoholic Budweiser beer.

There was only one place in Qatar where a supporter could purchase publicly available alcohol and drink it in public. That was the official FIFA Fan Zone at Al Bidda Park, but it was only Budweiser.

You're there to have a good time and watch football. Not to get drunk with others and forget the starting lineups after a few drinks.

Compared to the 2018 World Cup, which I also attended, across Moscow, Kazan, and Volgograd, Qatar felt safer and friendlier, especially for families and children.

Four years ago, I went to watch Poland and Australia matches with my dad.

We like a drink, we love going to unique clubs or bars to drink and watch some sports events, and we especially love drinking beer on a hot summer's day. There's nothing better.

However, we are in the minority and do not need alcohol in conjugation with live sport. We don't fit in with the majority of global sports fans. It tarnishes the sporting experience, is very costly, and is a hassle when you must consistently go to the bathroom.

While Russia was a fantastic host and overall a well-organised event, alcohol was a leading factor in the number of violent cases.

Inside the ground, fans would line up at the Luzniki Stadium in Moscow for more than 20 minutes to get a couple of beers that exceeded USD 10 for a plastic cup. It was also Budweiser, which isn't the most pleasant to drink.

At the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for Belgium vs Canada. Source: Ian Pulczynski

Fans stocked up on liquor inside the free Russian trains from city to city. They were highly intoxicated before their travels had even begun. With a vodka breath, one guy from Poland lost his passport while a Colombian was chugging outside the train window.

Football is the main spectacle at the World Cup, not waiting several minutes in line to get a beer and get smashed, not remembering anything about the game.

In Qatar, families were scattered across Doha's famous sites, such as Msreirb, Souq Waqif, West Bay, Pearl, and Lusail. Even at 9pm and 10pm, parents were out pushing their prams, walking, laughing, and mingling with supporters. They offered incredible street hospitality with no scent of violence nearby.

The car-free Corniche St was bustling with children and their parents soaking up the World Cup atmosphere. Live music was played, carts offered food, and big screens broadcasted football's greatest spectacle.

I did not see drunk 'fans' yelling racial abuse or inflammatory comments towards anyone. There was no violence in the streets, alcohol-fuelled assaults in and outside stadiums, or urinating on walls or in shrubs. I did not smell urine in stations and around public cultural sites. There were also no bottles of glass or cans scattered on the ground. There were no issues of disorderly behaviour on public transport services such as the metro and bus, unlike in Russia, where fans were throwing up and beefing up one another.

The World Cup experience in Qatar was safe, mainly due to the lack of alcohol-related violence. Perhaps organisers should explore alcohol bans in future editions of the World Cup.

Souq Waqif was free from any fan violence spurred on by alcohol. Source: Ian Pulczynski

Qatar did have its problems, such as accommodation issues and worker rights, and it is undoubtedly far from perfect. However, we should praise them for providing a safe environment that wasn't overrun or destroyed by fans consuming significant amounts of alcohol.

The idea that you need alcohol to have a good time is a sad one expressed across many Western countries and is a poor stain that trickles down many generations. I believe it's a shame that many fans need to stock up on drinks to enjoy live sporting events.

Several ongoing issues within the country need to be condemned. But we should at least praise Qatar and its officials for its alcohol ban. It made the 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup the safest and most family-friendly tournament to date.

Click here to read FPF's Antonis Pagonis describe the experience of watching the Socceroos at Federation Square.


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