Devastating $112m FIFA fallout from Qatar's last minute World Cup backflip

Budweiser beers are pictured left, with a crowd of Australian football fans on the right.
FIFA has been informed by Qatar that beer will no longer be available to purchase inside World Cup stadiums just days away from the beginning of the tournament. Pictures: Getty Images

Just two days before the beginning of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the host nation has backflipped on an agreement to sell beer inside stadiums during matches.

FIFA has complied with the request from Qatar, meaning only non-alcoholic beverages will be for sale within the eight stadiums set to host matches from next week.

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It's a bitter blow for FIFA, who are now staring down the barrel of potential legal action from major sponsor Budweiser for breach of contract, with the American company having paid some $112m to win the sponsorship rights.

The sale and consumption of alcohol is legal in Qatar but is strictly controlled, with drinks typically only available in hotel bars and restaurants at an inflated price.

During the World Cup, alcohol will be available for purchase in dedicated 'fan zones', but will no longer be sold within the stadiums themselves.

Budweiser's Twitter account tweeted: "Well, this is awkward..." without elaborating Friday. The tweet was later deleted.

Ab InBev, the parent company of Budweiser, acknowledged in a statement that some of its plans "cannot move forward due to circumstances beyond our control."

The company pays tens of millions of dollars at each World Cup for exclusive rights to sell beer and has already shipped the majority of its stock from Britain to Qatar in expectation of selling its product to millions of fans.

In the lead up to the World Cup, rights groups have raised concerns about how the nation will host millions of foreign fans, some of whom might violate Islamic laws criminalising public drunkenness, sex outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Qatar's government and its Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Friday's was not Qatar's first backtrack - but it was the most significant. Qatar also changed the date of the opening match only weeks before the World Cup began.

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The Middle Eastern nation has spent almost $A3 billion preparing to host the 32 competing nations, including Australia, from November 20 to December 18. Just how much it spent to win hosting rights is unknown.

Some 22 executive committee members from FIFA, soccer's governing body, voted in 2010 to award Qatar the cup - and Russia the previous edition four years ago.

Eleven of those FIFA executives have since been prosecuted, banned for life, suspended or fined for corruption.

FIFA's president at the time, Sepp Blatter, couldn't hide his disdain when announcing Qatar as the victor of the vote for the 2022 showpiece tournament. He hasn't changed his tune since.

"For me it is clear: Qatar is a mistake," Blatter told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger last week.

"The choice was bad."

Qatar has built seven new stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and significantly renovated an eighth to accomodate the thousands of fans visiting the country. Pictures: Getty Images
Qatar has built seven new stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and significantly renovated an eighth to accomodate the thousands of fans visiting the country. Pictures: Getty Images

Qatar had never competed at a World Cup. The Middle East had never hosted one. The Islamic country had to build infrastructure - eight stadiums, a metro train system, hotels and more.

Qatar's heat forced the world's biggest sporting event to be shifted from its usual June-July timeslot - and to be played in air-conditioned stadiums.

Qatar's human rights record was criticised. Some focused on the illegality of homosexuality in a nation of about 2.9 million people.

Others spotlighted many from a predominantly migrant workforce who died building cup infrastructure - numbers fluctuate between 6500 deaths and three, depending on whether human rights groups or QatarI officials are talking.

With AAP

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