Qatar just spat in the face of Budweiser’s $75 million World Cup sponsorship

November 18, 2022, 5:36 PM UTC
Budweiser Zero is served ahead of the first match of the FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar.
Christopher Pike—Bloomberg via Getty Images

For many sports fans, attending a game and drinking beer go hand in hand. Well aware of this, AB InBev’s Budweiser spends about $75 million every four years to be the official beer sponsor of the World Cup. 

But now, in a stunning reversal just ahead of Sunday’s kickoff, host country Qatar—a Muslim-majority nation that will be first in the Arab world to host the event—says it will ban alcohol sales within World Cup stadiums, something it had initially agreed to allow.

The abrupt U-turn creates an uncomfortable situation for FIFA and AB InBev. The company tweeted in response to the ban, “Well, this is awkward,” but then deleted the tweet, according to the Wall Street Journal

An AB InBev spokesperson told Fortune, “Some of the planned stadium activations cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control.”

FIFA shared a statement with Fortune saying the tournament organizers “appreciate AB InBev’s understanding.” It added that alcohol sales will still be allowed at the “FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations, and licensed venues” and that the non-alcoholic Bud Zero would still be available in the tournament stadiums.  

But AB InBev has gone to greater-than-usual lengths to get its beer to the tournament, which runs until Dec. 18

No alcohol allowed after all this?

Peter Kraemer, AB InBev’s chief supply officer, described the logistics involved in transporting and storing its product earlier this month to Bloomberg, saying the company expected more beer to be consumed during the World Cup than would normally happen during an entire year in Qatar.

The company, with no breweries in the region, had to ship its product to Qatar by ocean freight, find refrigerated warehouse space in a country with sweltering temperatures, and train workers to serve its beer properly.  

“Beer is a perishable product, so it’s always best the day it’s packed,” Kraemer told Bloomberg. “We manage our supply chain very closely for the amount of time that it takes for products to get from point A to point B, and then also the conditions under which they’re shipped preserve the taste of the beer.”

Qatar is strict about alcohol, but not completely dry. There’s just one alcohol retailer in the entire country, the Qatar Distribution Company. Overpriced beer, wine, and liquor can be bought at establishments linked to high-end hotels, where expats routinely get drunk, but bartenders avoid serving women in traditional garb. Public intoxication is technically illegal and punishable by up to half a year in prison. 

Other controversies have also plagued Qatar’s hosting of the event, including the treatment of migrant workers in the country and a lack of  LGBTQ+ rights

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