Beer ban is a show of strength and two almighty fingers for Qatar’s critics | World Cup 2022
The ink was barely dry on Qatar’s decision to ban alcohol in World Cup stadiums when an informed insider in Doha was asked why it was happening now, just 48 hours before the big kickoff of the tournament. His answer was succinct. “It’s a deliberate fuck you west.”
Of course it was. Yes, the Qataris wanted to make sure fans of all nations, religions and creeds felt comfortable at matches – and that wouldn’t be the case if some were drunk or huddled. And yes, Qatar remains a conservative Muslim country, in which alcohol is foreign to the culture. But it was true on December 2, 2010, the day it won the right to host the World Cup, just as much as it does today.
So for him to tear up his promises and politics this late in the day, he has to be seen for what he is: a show of strength and an almighty two fingers to his critics.
But, as another well-connected football consultant put it, Friday’s move is part of a noticeable change in tactics by the Qataris.
“For years they seemed contrite and humbled amid questions about their record,” he said. “But now that the World Cup is so imminent, their attitude has changed. Geopolitics around energy and the West’s increased gas needs during the war in Ukraine make them think they are immune. And if someone attacks them, they immediately retaliate.
Take LGBTQ+ rights. For years, Western journalists and human rights groups have criticized Qatar’s record. For years, the host country stuck to vague assurances that everyone would be welcome. Then this month, a Qatari World Cup ambassador, Khalid Salman, called homosexuality “mental damage” and warned gay fans that they “should accept our rules”. It’s an adjustment.
Meanwhile, when the Sunday Times suggested Qatar had used private detectives to target journalists, it didn’t let it pass. Instead, he threatened legal action “to make sure those responsible are held accountable”.
Qatar also believes it has made significant progress on workers’ rights and this has been largely ignored by Western media which continues to focus on the negatives. This further fueled his anger and frustration.
Yet in recent days, Qatar has also sent a more incendiary message: that many criticisms of its human rights record are based on Western racism or a misplaced sense of Western superiority.
This message is largely wrong. And it’s misplaced. But he is gaining strength every day.
As Qatar’s Labor Minister Ali bin Samikh al-Marri said this week: “They don’t want to allow a small country, an Arab country, an Islamic country, to host the World Cup.
He added, “Some politicians and media in Western countries have lost the moral and professional motive in their attack on Qatar.”
This message was picked up by the local media. When a handful of people in the Western press questioned whether Indian fans of England, Brazil and Argentina might be “fake fans”, the Doha News was quick to play the racism card.
Meanwhile, the official Qatar News Agency enthusiastically endorsed the official stance, noting that: “His Excellency underlined that the bogus smear campaign has transgressed all bounds in its attempt to discredit Qatar, the latest of which dated was the claim that World Cup organizers used fake fans who receive money to attend games.
What makes Qatar’s behavior more remarkable is that usually in the build-up to a World Cup, the spectacle of Fifa takes over. Rules are being introduced to ensure things are done a certain way and brands such as Budweiser who pay $75m (£63m) are heavily promoted. Not here. Not now.
Instead, Fifa President Gianni Infantino will spend Saturday morning answering in-depth questions about whether his organization will face a massive trial, which guarantees the story will last for another 24 hours.
But this story is not about whether beer should be sold in stadiums. In truth, if the Qataris had decided to ban it years ago, the problem would have been solved long ago. It’s about moving the goalposts and worrying about uncertainties.
For years he has spoken of finding common ground between Qatar’s conservative culture while doing his best to accommodate the expected 1.2 million visitors; a perfectly reasonable position. But after that, how do we know that other assurances won’t also be rejected over the next month? After all, if the Qataris are prepared to disregard the wishes of Fifa and its main sponsors, who could be next?
Can LGBTQ+ fans really be sure they won’t be censored for holding hands? Will England fans be in trouble for a slight cultural misunderstanding, despite Qatari claims they will take a patient and relaxed approach?
At least one thing has become clear. This World Cup will not only be played on the ground of Qatar, but also according to its rules.