Fans can drink 'hops & grains'

World Cup guests can have alcohol only at limited places and order 'grape drink' for wine

DOHA • Toasting a win will be a very different experience at next year's World Cup in Qatar, where football fans can only drink in certain places and must respect Islamic customs.

Today marks the one-year countdown to the quadrennial event, but, in a country where public intoxication is illegal, the usual sight of boozy fans thronging the streets is likely to be absent from the first World Cup in the Middle East.

Instead, most of the drinking will take place at the official fan zones or at licensed restaurants or hotels. It looks unlikely that ordinary ticket-holders will be able to drink in the stands, although no decision has been announced.

Fifa is offering hospitality packages, starting at US$950 (S$1,290) and soaring to US$4,950 for a group match, that include alcohol and other perks.

Alcohol "will be available in additional fan and hospitality locations", the world football body said.

According to Akbar Al Baker, chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority, there will be "as much alcohol as you want".

Fans will arrive at Doha's dry airport terminal and, once they find a bar, they will be looking at about US$10 for a pint of beer and US$20 for a cocktail.

"They will also learn to recognise the euphemistic language used to promote alcohol sales on signs and online," said a manager at a Doha hotel, which is training staff at its sports bar.

"There are words we should avoid using. Instead of beer, we will say 'hops and grains', wine is 'grape drink' and for sparkling wine or champagne, it's 'bubbly'.

"We have different brunch packages, the most expensive to include alcohol will be called 'enhanced package' to avoid embarrassing Qataris who read the menu."

In 2011, Doha authorities temporarily allowed alcohol at restaurants at its upscale The Pearl district, mostly frequented by foreign residents.

But, after complaints by Qataris, the authorities clamped down again. In recent months, restaurants there have again been allowed to apply for alcohol licences, but establishments have done so discreetly and the issue remains taboo.

Many in the food and beverage industry are reluctant to talk too publicly about alcohol for fear of upsetting local patrons, Qatari owners or the authorities.

"I had to wait for 11/2 years to get the licence because no one would sign the necessary document," said a manager at a restaurant, which overlooks yachts in The Pearl.

"Many Qataris refuse to be associated with alcohol."

While she received approval last year, conditions for the licence include no drinking on the outdoor terrace, keeping bottles out of sight and using tinted wine glasses.

The restaurateur, who spoke on condition of anonymity, hopes the authorities will loosen their grip ahead of the World Cup next November and December.

"People won't understand that they have to be locked up indoors to drink, especially when Qatar's weather will be beautiful during that time of year," she said.

In terms of infrastructure and organisation, most observers agree that Qatar will be ready for the tournament, with new stadiums opened and roadworks completed.

There are questions over how 1.2 million fans will spend their time in Doha, Qatar's only major city, whose leading attractions include museums and cultural centres.

Alcohol and football supporters go hand in hand together but former Dutch international Ronald de Boer, a 2022 World Cup ambassador who lived in Doha for five years, has reassured tourists they will have a good time there.

"Doha will be ready for this amount of fans, they can really hold big events. Don't worry that you can't drink a beer," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 21, 2021, with the headline Fans can drink 'hops & grains'. Subscribe