FIFA chief says fans should be able to sit out World Cup

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has downplayed Qatar’s last-minute ban on the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums as nothing more than a brief inconvenience for spectators.

“If this is the biggest problem we have, I will sign it (agreement),” Infantino said on Saturday, a day after the conservative Muslim emirate made an outspoken statement about the deal it had made to secure the soccer tournament.

Infantino blamed “crowd flows” in Doha for the decision, although it appeared to be a decision by Qatar’s authoritarian government to appease its conservative Wahhabi citizens already angered by events surrounding the tournament that they see as Western excesses.

Infantino said the ban on beer in stadiums was a joint effort by Qatari officials and FIFA.

“We tried all the way to see if it was possible,” Infantino said of allowing the sale of alcohol. “If you can’t drink a beer for 3 hours a day, you’ll survive. Maybe there’s a reason why in France, Spain, Scotland, alcohol is banned in stadiums. Maybe we’re smarter, thinking maybe you should this.”

Spectators can drink alcoholic beer in the evenings at the ‘FIFA Fan Festival’, a designated party area that also offers live music and activities. Qatar places strict restrictions on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, although its sale has been allowed in hotel bars for years outside of tournament venues.

The World Cup begins on Sunday with an opening match between host country Qatar and Ecuador, and when Qatar made the pitch to host the tournament, the country agreed to FIFA’s requirements to sell alcohol in stadiums. The alcohol plans were only released 11 weeks before kick-off and then changed on Friday.

FIFA says non-alcoholic beer will continue to be sold in the eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will be served in the arenas’ luxury hospitality areas.

Previous World Cup hosts have been asked to make concessions. For the 2014 tournament, Brazil had to change a law to allow the sale of alcohol in stadiums — but the same cultural issues weren’t at play.

AB InBev’s agreement with FIFA was renewed in 2011 after Qatar was selected as the host. However, the Belgium-based brewer has faced uncertainty in recent months over the exact details of where it can serve and sell beer in Qatar.

Infantio denied that the ban on beer sales has damaged FIFA’s relationship with Budweiser, the official beer sponsor.

“We have been partners for a couple of decades and look forward to working together for the future,” he said. “This particular situation has brought us even closer.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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