By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar won't say whether it will sell alcohol at stadiums during the 2022 World Cup, although a top official said Wednesday that the Gulf nation was discussing with FIFA where it would be sold in Doha during the tournament.
Hassan al-Thawadi, general secretary of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, said alcohol would be sold during the event and Qatar was "discussing with FIFA the extent of it and where." He said the country was aiming to put on a World Cup where "everyone will be able to have a great time, have fun and be exposed to Qatari culture."
Qatar, a nation with conservative Muslim traditions and significant population of foreign workers, limits the sale of alcohol mostly to five-star hotels. It doesn't sell alcohol at soccer matches.
"Alcohol will be allowed in Qatar," al-Thawadi said, although he didn't "see the reason for it being in the stadium."
He noted that several nations don't sell it at matches.
"I'm looking at it in terms of England and looking at in terms of everybody else. That is something we are discussing with FIFA ... Let's discuss this with relevant stakeholders and come up with a plan that welcomes everyone."
The issue of alcohol dogged the Qatar bid before it beat out the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia in December 2010 for the right to host the tournament.
Qatar said before winning the World Cup bid that it would create fan zones and promised to allow drinking in some of them.
The debate over alcohol sales at World Cups is not limited to Qatar. Russia, which is hosting the 2018 World Cup, prohibits alcohol at stadiums and nearby stores. President Vladimir Putin in January promised FIFA President Sepp Blatter that it would reconsider a ban on beer at stadiums during World Cup.
Brazil, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup, has also wrestled with the issue.
Existing Brazilian law forbids alcohol sales inside stadiums during soccer matches to cut down on fan violence, but a World Cup ban would upset some of FIFA's sponsors.
FIFA has said it will sharply defend the commercial rights of all its sponsors — among them brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of Budweiser, which has extended its sponsorship of the World Cup through the 2018 event in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.
After a lengthy debate, a Brazilian congressional commission approved a World Cup bill this month that will allow the alcohol sales in stadiums during the tournament. The bill still has to go through the lower house and the senate before reaching President Dilma Rousseff.
Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League who was in Qatar to attend a sports and security conference, said Qatar would have to strike a balance between pleasing European soccer fans who enjoy a pint with the cultural sensitivities of the Gulf nation where drinking alcohol is discouraged.
Alcohol is sold at stadiums in England, but fans cannot drink in view of the field.
"In our country and in Germany, we have a culture. We call it, 'We would like to go for a pint and that pint is a pint of beer,'" Richards said. "It is our culture as much as your culture is not drinking. There has to be a happy medium."
Richards, who is staying in a hotel that doesn't serve alcohol, said one solution would be fan zones where alcohol is served, recalling how such areas during the 1996 European Championship in England proved popular with fans who would drink all day and watch the games.
"If you don't do something about it, you are starting to bury your head in the sand a little bit because it needs addressing," Richards said. "You might be better off saying don't come. But a World Cup without England, Germany, the Dutch, Danes and Scandinavians — it's unthinkable."
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