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Soaking up the atmosphere at Qatar 2022: What it’s like at a ‘dry’ World Cup

<i>Peter Byrne/PA Images/Getty Images</i><br/>Argentina fans enjoy the atmosphere at the Souq Waqif in Doha.
PA Images via Getty Images
Peter Byrne/PA Images/Getty Images
Argentina fans enjoy the atmosphere at the Souq Waqif in Doha.

By Ben Church, CNN

Drinking alcohol before, during and after soccer matches is a habit loved by many supporters around the world. But, at Qatar 2022, alcohol is not as readily available.

That’s because two days before the start of the 2022 tournament, soccer’s world governing body FIFA confirmed a ban of alcoholic beverages at the eight stadiums hosting the World Cup.

While some fans were pleased with the decision, others were left confused and frustrated — including 21-year-old student Arnov Paul-Choudhury from England.

“It’s the World Cup, it’s football, you need to be able to drink around the stadium,” Paul-Choudhury told CNN Sport in Doha on the day of the announcement. “I just don’t think they’re doing the right things to attract fans.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino disagreed, saying fans would “survive” not being able to drink “for three hours a day” and, on the whole, he’s been proven right.

Once the World Cup got underway, CNN spoke to a number of fans about the booze ban and alcohol — or the lack thereof at stadiums — didn’t seem to be much of an issue for them.

“I’d normally have a few beers, but I think everyone is just getting on with it,” England fan Nick Cottrill told CNN at the FIFA Fan Festival.

“Everyone here is just really happy and there is so much negativity back home. It’s all running really well,” added Cottrill who was visiting Qatar with his father, Gary.

There was one potential downside about not being able to drink at stadiums, according to the Cottrills in that — from their experience — matches were a bit less boisterous, though that’s not necessarily been a bad thing.

“Normally, so many people go over the top,” Gary Cottrill told CNN. “It’s fine to have alcohol, but those people who come for the sake of causing trouble and being obnoxious are being stopped from coming.”

Sourcing alcohol

The sale and consumption of alcohol has been a highly contentious issue since Qatar was first announced as the World Cup host 12 years ago.

The Muslim country is considered to be very conservative and tightly regulates alcohol sales and consumption.

In Qatar, it’s illegal to be seen drunk in public and those who violate this could face legal consequences.

According to UK government advice on traveling to Qatar, drinking in a public place could “result in a prison sentence of up to six months and/or a fine up to 3,000 Qatar Rial ($824).”

In September, Qatar had said it would permit ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup soccer matches starting three hours before kick-off and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.

Then, two days before the first match, FIFA confirmed that no alcohol would be sold at the stadiums which will host the tournament’s 64 matches. Alcohol would only be served in designated fan parks and other licensed venues around Doha, FIFA said in a statement.

Some fans can still consume alcohol at matches — albeit at a price. Supporters can purchase a Match Hospitality package, with prices ranging from $950 to $4,950 per match, for varying services, including alcohol.

Alcohol is also available at licensed hotel restaurants and bars around Doha, and expatriates living in Qatar can obtain alcohol on a permit system, according to UK government advice.

The FIFA Fan Festival also sells Budweiser beer between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m meaning fans who want to drink absolutely can.

But for a lot of fans who have traveled thousands of miles to be in Qatar, alcohol refueling wasn’t the reason they’ve come to a World Cup.

“That’s not what we’re here for,” US fan Deya Banisakher, 30, told CNN.

Banisakher is in Doha to follow the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) with his partner, Mireya Jurado.

Like many, the couple say the restrictions around drinking outside venues has had very little impact on their trip.

“We’re here to watch the football matches, soak up the culture. The architecture is beautiful. We’re having a great time,” explained Jurado.

There is a notable family atmosphere in Qatar’s capital, with fans enjoying the city when they aren’t watching matches.

Souq Waqif, an area of downtown Doha, is an area popular with fans and is frequently filled with thousands of people supporting different teams. Despite often being crammed into tight areas, interactions are invariably friendly between supporters.

This, of course, could still be the case with the presence of alcohol, but major soccer tournaments have previously been marred with fan violence and hooliganism so far unseen at Qatar 2022.

Notably, the Euro 2020 final at Wembley was overshadowed by excessive alcohol and drug misuse, according to a report commissioned by the English Football Association.

A safer World Cup?

The lack of alcohol around stadiums at Qatar 2022 has also reduced the risk of crowd-related problems escalating into major incidents, says one expert.

“Let’s consider if you’re taking your family to watch a match,” Dr. Sean Mottaleb, a senior healthcare lead who works for the emergency, crisis and disaster preparedness team at Qatar 2022, told CNN.

“Would you feel safe if you have somebody who is intoxicated sitting next to you and they don’t have that much control over their behavior?

“I would say this event is not only for hardcore football fans, it’s for everybody. It’s for everybody around the world. Everybody has the right to enjoy, everybody has the right to feel safe.”

In terms of security and healthcare issues, Mottaleb says he is happy with the way the tournament has unfolded so far.

There have been very few crowd-related issues and Mottaleb suggests the decision from tournament organizers to ban alcohol around stadiums was as much to do with security concerns as it was to do with cultural reasons.

“We measure the risks associated with those who are intoxicated, and the risk becomes higher,” he said.

“Sometimes, you might have small incidents right, left and center and those incidents might lead to what we call a [snowball] effect, a major incident.

“So, since you know that there is a risk, there is a potential for harm, what would you do? You eliminate that element.”

The World Cup finishes on December 18, meaning there is plenty of time for things to change.

But the feeling on the ground is that this World Cup has shown that soccer can be enjoyed without excessive alcohol.

If anything, there is bemusement among fans that the issue is getting so much attention back in their home countries when all they want to see is good action on the pitch.

Mottaleb said the next tournament — held across Mexico, US and Canada — may look to learn lessons from Qatar but, in truth, an alcohol ban in 2026 would be very unlikely.

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