Welcome to the land of smoke and mirrors writes IAN HERBERT in Doha
Qatar World Cup: Welcome to the land of smoke and mirrors where they make up the rules as they go along, writes IAN HERBERT in Doha
Demands by the Qatar royals to ban the sale of alcohol at World Cup stadiums come as little surprise to those who have watched the build-up to the event from close quarters.
The rank rudeness and discourtesy of four Qatari World Cup chiefs, as they stonewalled at a press conference two months ago, revealed that these were men not to be trusted.
Having shown up an hour late without any explanation, they proceeded to bluster and dissemble when asked perfectly legitimate questions about alcohol, accommodation and policing at the tournament.
The grandly titled Colonel Jassim Abdulrahim al-Sayed of the World Cup’s Safety and Security Operations Committee was asked by this newspaper what the consequences might be for football supporters acting anti-socially after drinking alcohol.
He did not answer. When pressed, he claimed not to have heard the question. Eventually, he said the information had already been released.
‘We are unable to give specific information,’ declared the Colonel. ‘You will need to check the press releases.’ There had been no press releases.
Demands by the Qatar royals to ban the sale of alcohol at World Cup stadiums come as little surprise to those who have watched the build-up to the event from close quarters. The shock move – which comes just 48 hours before the tournament begins – was reportedly made after the brother of Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (pictured) intervened
The rank rudeness and discourtesy of four Qatari World Cup chiefs, as they stonewalled at a press conference two months ago, revealed that these were men not to be trusted. Pictured: A Budweiser stand outside the stadium before it was announced no alcohol will be sold in the perimeter of the stadiums
A fan is handed the first beer served at the 2022 Qatar World Cup at the FIFA Fan Festival in Doha’s Al Bidda Park
There was the same breezy indifference for a Bloomberg reporter who wanted to know more about alcohol availability at the World Cup. The pointless one-hour charade was a lesson in the Qatari authorities’ attitude to transparency. Pictured: A Budweiser beer stand at Fan Festival ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
There was the same breezy indifference for a Bloomberg reporter who wanted to know more about alcohol availability at the World Cup. The pointless one-hour charade was a lesson in the Qatari authorities’ attitude to transparency.
The Colonel and his sidekicks were clearly affronted by the notion that they might be expected to be held accountable, despite the fact they had been granted the right to stage the greatest show on earth.
And now, it transpires that Fifa has bowed to the demands that there be no alcohol at stadiums.
Supporters who have stumped up £170 for the privilege of being cooped up in accommodation complexes which resemble prisoner-of-war camps are furious.
‘We respect that country’s rules but we don’t drink excessively and this is a part of football for us,’ says Steve Hudson, from Northampton, who is flying to Doha this weekend.
Fans watching games at the World Cup will be unable to purchase any alcohol on site, instead only being able to buy it in designated Fan Zones away from stadiums
The fan festival, where pints cost £12 each, is now one of the few places in the whole of Doha where visiting fans can buy alcohol
It is impossible to overstate the scale of the blow this development represents to Fifa, whose relief was palpable a few months ago, when they were given the go-ahead to let Budweiser sell beer in the stadiums – and pocket the £63 million the company was paying for the privilege.
It undermines yet further the already flimsy credibility of this tournament.
We have seen one Qatari ‘ambassador’ declaring homosexuality to be ‘damage in the mind’, and Sepp Blatter, the disgraced Fifa chief who gifted Qatar the tournament in 2010, confess that it had been a mistake all along.
The Qatari capital of Doha is a place riven with hypocrisy and double standards. While there will be no beer on sale in the stadiums, it will be available at the five-star hotels on the dazzling Pearl – a man-made island for the super-rich.
And, incidentally, in the luxury suites reserved for Fifa officials and other wealthy guests at those very same stadiums, where sommelier-selected wines will be available from next week.
And despite the ban on homosexuality, the authorities appear to have no problem tolerating the presence of escorts in the western-style bars on the West Bay.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani (right, facing camera), president of the Qatar Football Association, stands by a Budweiser hoarding at a training session
We have seen one Qatari ‘ambassador’ declaring homosexuality to be ‘damage in the mind’, and Sepp Blatter, the disgraced Fifa chief who gifted Qatar the tournament in 2010, confess that it had been a mistake all along
Now that Qatar has reneged on its agreement to allow alcohol, it begs the question: where do they stand on the promises they made in a bid to secure the tournament, such as freedom of the press, the right to protest and the safety of LGBTQ+ visitors?
But it’s not one worth asking. Because if there’s one thing that is very clear following the U-turn on alcohol sales, all power resides with the royal family.
It’s actually been a land of smoke and mirrors all along. When the tournament was gifted to Qatar, the responsibility for organising it was hived off to a Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, a kind of state-within-a-state.
Despite the preposterous name, it employed intelligent, experienced British communications staff.
England fans have already begun descending on Doha, although the majority are yet to arrive ahead of kick-off on Sunday
Football fans earlier told MailOnline they would ‘probably have gone home’ following the announcement about alcohol if it wasn’t for the thousands of pounds they had spent on the trip
But when an issue considered to be beyond their narrow purview cropped up, they passed it on to the Qatari state’s PR officers – arrogant, unpleasant and at times vaguely threatening people. It doesn’t take much to imagine which of those versions of the state has held sway. Fifa will feel wounded by the development but is in no position to preach. Always a deeply compromised organisation, it is reaping what it sowed 12 years ago when it awarded the 2022 World Cup to such an utterly inappropriate host country.
Others who have taken the Qatari shilling are looking compromised today. Brits such as David Beckham, the World Cup ‘ambassador’ whose image adorns billboards on all the main thoroughfares in this city, and Gary Neville, the so-called socialist who is taking the Qataris’ money for a beIN Sports TV gig.
Perhaps even they now see what they are legitimising: a high-handed, unaccountable state which decided to appropriate one of the most precious sports tournaments for use as a promotional tool and a passport to global influence.
Many of us have long suspected that the interests of the average football supporter simply looking for a beer before a match would come a poor second to the demands of Qatari self-interest.
Now we know it for sure.
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