· By Vanessa Royle
A Very Dry World Cup
Soccer, football, the beautiful game. Every four years, the world turns its attention to the World Cup, generally played in June, this year, controversially, in November.
I’ve never been to a World Cup, but when I imagine what that experience must be like, I picture rowdy fans, painted faces, non-stop chanting, and beer sloshing past waving hands. In the U.S. and many soccer-obsessed countries, beer is a part of enjoying the sport. You watch games over a pint in a dive bar or bring a six-pack to a friend’s house to watch a special match. I vividly remember waking up obscenely early on a Sunday morning to watch premier league soccer over a few pints of Guinness at an Irish pub in San Francisco. It was a fun morning, the afternoon hangover less so.
This year’s World Cup looks a bit different. In a not-so-shocking move, Qatar banned sales of alcoholic beer in stadiums just two days before the first match. Oddly, spectators in the luxury suites can still enjoy alcohol. I wasn’t surprised—it’s a Muslim country where it is illegal to be drunk in public. However, in 2014, FIFA pressured host country Brazil to change its laws (in place to prevent violence) to allow alcohol at stadiums. Eight years later, times have changed. With over a million fans flocking to Qatar’s eight new stadiums, alcohol would have been adding fuel to the fire and likely would have put fans at increased risk of arrest.
It appears to have come as a surprise to one of the tournament’s biggest sponsors. AB InBev (Budweiser’s parent company) spent $75m on its World Cup sponsorship before Qatar banned beer sales. The company is still selling its Bud Zero non-alcoholic offering in stadiums, which is hopefully a great opportunity for people to try out an NA beer for the first time. And not to worry, Budweiser will be hosting a party for the winning team’s country to make use of all that unsold beer. Not to mention, Budweiser’s TV ads featuring Lionel Messi and Neymar are continuing to run for those of us watching from home.
On the ground in Qatar, there have been fewer episodes of violence among fans. Those desperate for alcohol have created alcohol maps and attempted to sneak alcohol into games, to much fanfare. On the whole, it seems that spectators have moved on, and why shouldn’t they?
I understand wanting to enjoy a cold beer while watching your favorite sport. But I truly don’t think it’s necessary, especially at this level. Just being at the World Cup would be enough excitement for me to forego alcohol. I would want to savor every moment, good and bad, and revel in the energy of the crowd around me. Alcohol creates a veil between yourself and the outside, and is there no better place to be truly present than in a stadium watching your country’s team pursue glory?
I don’t expect FIFA to make changes to its views on alcohol, nor do I expect future bans to take place. If anything comes from this very dry world World Cup, I hope global fans attending realize that alcohol isn’t the only reason to love the beautiful game.