FIFA president Gianni Infantino has insisted he feels ”200 percent in control” of the World Cup after the governing body changed its policy on selling alcohol inside stadiums in Qatar 48 hours before the opening match.
The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, which is a Muslim country, but was set to be served in “select areas” at the eight match venues before FIFA pulled the plug yesterday, reportedly under pressure from the Qatari government.
As part of an extraordinary press conference, largely spent defending the tournament hosts, Infantino said the decision was made jointly between FIFA and Qatar, claimed it was no different from existing policy in a number of European countries and suggested the move was down to safety concerns.
“If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup, I will sign immediately and go to the beach and relax until 18th of December,” Infantino told around 400 reporters as a part of an hour-long monologue covering a range of different topics.
“Let me first assure you that every decision taken at this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA.
“It is discussed, debated and taken jointly. There will be many fanzones - eight, ten - over 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar.
“Over 10 fanzones where over 100,000 can simultaneously drink alcohol. I think personally, if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive, especially because actually the same rules apply in France or Spain or in Portugal, or in Scotland. No beer is allowed in the stadiums.
“Here it becomes a big thing because its a Muslim country. I don't know why. We tried. It's the one I give you of course, a late change of policy.
“Because we tried until the end to see if it was possible. But one thing is to have plans and designs and another thing is when you start putting it in place.
“You look at the flows of the people, look at their safety going in and out, going to attend different matches.
“This is something at this World Cup that is new in that respect. Because normally at a World Cup there is only one match in one given city which is usually three times the size, at least, the smallest one, of Doha.
“Here we have four matches the same day so we have to make sure people can go in and out in the right way. And that's why we take the decision about the beer.”
Infantino added: “I feel 200 percent in control of this World Cup, absolutely. Again, every decision is taken in partnership with the Qatar government.”
Alcohol will still be served in corporate areas of grounds but fan groups have accused FIFA of pulling the rug from under travelling supporters.
I’m very grateful to Budweiser in this respect.
In the wake of yesterday's announcement, Budweiser, an official World Cup sponsor and long-term FIFA partner, tweeted: “Well, this is awkward...”, and there have been suggestions the beer giant could take legal action against the world governing body for breach of contract.
Budweiser have since deleted the tweet, and Infantino suggested FIFA had renewed their partnership with the brand for a further four years.
“Budweiser is a great partner of FIFA for a few decades already,” Infantino said. “And a few weeks ago we have been shaking hands with their chairman and CEO to continue our partnership as well until 2026.
“Partners are partners in good and bad times, difficult and easy times. I'm very grateful to Budweiser in this respect and to Michel [Doukeris, CEO of In-Bev, Budweiser's parent company] for the co-operation in the last years and the last couple of weeks when we decided the future and now when we make sure the Bud Zero will be serve in the stadiums.”