Qatar slaps ban on beer at World Cup

Qatar banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums just two days before the opening game.

The move was the latest sign of the tension of hosting the event, which is not just a sports tournament but also a month-long party, in the conservative Muslim emirate where the sale of alcohol is heavily restricted.

It's also a significant blow to World Cup beer sponsor Budweiser and raised questions about how much control FIFA retains over its tournament.

Non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at the eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will still be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.

The vast majority of ticket holders don't have access to those areas, though they will be able to drink alcoholic beer in the evenings in what is known as the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated party area that also offers live music and activities.

Outside of the tournament-run areas, Qatar puts strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, though its sale has been permitted in hotel bars for years.

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 runup 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.