Two days before the opening game, Qatar bans the serving of alcohol around the World Cup stadiums. FIFA ducks away, the sponsor is powerless. Above all, however, fans are considering what this apparently arbitrary turnaround means for other areas of conflict.
The fact that there will be no alcoholic beer in the stadium is the lesser problem. Much more ominous is the fact that the World Cup organizers Qatar obviously see themselves in a position to declare existing agreements null and void. The local organizers and the world association FIFA had actually negotiated that drinks could be served in the eight arenas of this World Cup, even if only in certain areas. Barely 48 hours before the opening game between Qatar and Ecuador, however, the emirate overturned this regulation. And this gives rise to fears that further arbitrary changes in the framework conditions could follow during the tournament.
What about the "safety guarantees" for homosexual fans traveling to the World Cup? In Qatar, homosexuality is a punishable offense, the Qatari World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman recently described homosexuality as "mental damage" in a ZDF documentary - are these fans now threatened with arrest? The alliance of active football fans, BAFF for short, tweeted that everyone can now "imagine for themselves what the promised 'safety guarantees' will be worth'". Other fan organizations such as the Football Supporters' Association also speak of "understandable concerns", that other concessions from Qatar could also be cashed in again.
Budweiser, one of FIFA's biggest sponsors and beer partner for the World Cup, reacted cautiously to the about-face. The decision was "out of our control," the AFP news agency said, and a tweet with the words "Well, this is awkward..." was deleted after a short time. Qatar had previously pushed to move outlets to less conspicuous locations.
Apparently the connection to Qatar is even more valuable for FIFA boss Gianni Infantino than all the millions that flow into the association's accounts from sponsorship deals with brewery groups. After all, he recently sent a letter to the 32 participating nations, the content of which can be roughly summarized as follows: Please shut up and play football. The 52-year-old forbade criticism so as not to be drawn into "every political and ideological struggle". He then asked earnestly that the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine should be paused during the World Cup. Caricaturing Infantino has long been impossible.
It's not at all about no alcohol being served in the eight arenas in Qatar. What is worrying, however, is that the emirate and its ruling family are indicating that they are also questioning or even canceling all other agreements that are intended to make a World Cup possible that is tolerable for everyone involved. In the case of alcohol being served, it may be "only" about stimulants, albeit ones that have been proven to be hazardous to health. However, there is now concern that Qatar is breaking its word on other issues as well.