Earlier today, Qatar announced that there would not be alcohol sales at the World Cup, the second change to the alcohol policy in less than a week and two days before the first match. The announcement, while stating “the tournament organizers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support,” will almost certainly spawn legal action from Budweiser over the $75M sponsorship agreement with FIFA.
The announcement could also be viewed as a power play, a move by Qatar to demonstrate to FIFA that the Qatari government and organizers, not FIFA, are in charge of the World Cup. Typically, FIFA extracts numerous concessions and legal exceptions from host nations but that has been flipped on it’s head.
It’s an ominous sign that the organizers can without warning decide to change the rules about what is allowed and not allowed surrounding the World Cup. Banning alcohol sales will be an annoyance to many, but ultimately, it’s inconsequential. But what if they suddenly decide to start arresting people for, I don’t know, singing too loudly in a public space or gathering in a group larger than 10 people, or something more sinister?
And if that happened, how much coverage of it would we even get? You may have seen some of the videos and / or stories posted by journalists over the past few days who have been sternly treated by security for filming, taking pictures, and reporting where security don’t want them to be. It’s not great.
This isn’t a gleeful “told you so, FIFA,” either. It’s real, and it’s scary. What should be an exciting, joyful celebration of football is a hyper-controlled, nerve-wracking ordeal for both the people directly in harm’s way and for all those back home worrying about their family, friends, and fellow humans who traveled to the competition.
P.S. - FIFA is getting exactly what they deserve. But it’s a depressing feeling of vindication rather than a triumphant schadenfreude.