FIFA’s decision drew criticism from some visitors, but many fans living in Qatar – including families – support the move.
Doha, Qatar – Abdulla Murad Ali put his hands on his heart and said his country welcomes anyone coming to the World Cup.
The Qatari banker wants football fans to treat the event’s host country as their second home. His only request? You should also respect its culture.
“Qatar is an Islamic country and alcohol is ‘haram’ [forbidden] in our religion. All we ask is that the world show some ‘ehtaram’ (respect) to our culture,” he told Al Jazeera on Monday, a day after the tournament’s opening match.
Ali was referring to some fans’ excitement over FIFA’s decision last Friday to ban alcohol at tournament venues. Spirits are still available in selected hotels, bars and the official FIFA Fan Zone.
Nevertheless, the decision of the international football association was criticized by some fans because of its timing. Ahead of England’s first tournament game against Iran on Monday, some disgruntled fans complained of a lack of understanding of their “drinking culture”.
Some were seen asking mall security for directions to a place where they could find an alcoholic drink, much to their confusion. Some fans Al Jazeera spoke to on Friday said they felt misled by FIFA.
“If FIFA had banned alcohol when Qatar was announced as the host country, it would have been different,” said Federico Farraz, a football fan from Portugal, while sipping a cup of tea in Doha’s Souq Waqif. “Even if the decision had been made a few months before the tournament, people who have been planning this trip for years would have understood.”
But for others, the decision, which FIFA says came after talks with the host country, came as a relief.
Sonia Nemmas is a Jordanian mother of three girls who grew up in a football loving household. The family have tickets to a late night game and are concerned about being in a stadium where drunk fans may be present.
“When we travel to other countries, we don’t ask them why we are asked to follow their rules or respect their culture,” she said, shrugging. “We make it easy.” On Friday night, the weekend in Qatar, she was out and about in downtown Doha to attend celebrations.
Her daughters were with her, wearing the keffiyeh as a nod to their Jordanian identity, while showing their support for Qatar by wearing the host country’s flags and hats.
Nemmas cited the alcohol-related violence that erupted at Wembley Stadium during the Euro 2020 final in England last year. She doesn’t want to see that in Qatar.
While some England fans have expressed their dissatisfaction with the ban on social media and in public, others said it wouldn’t stop them from having a good time.
Ahmed Muhammad, a Doha-based schoolteacher from England, said it was unfair to paint all England fans with the same brush. “England fans are generally portrayed as hooligans, but that’s just a small minority,” he said while soaking up the atmosphere in Souq Waqif with his young son. “The majority are respectful and stick to the rules.”
Muhammed said that while there will be some unhappy English fans, most will respect the decision and enjoy themselves.
It shouldn’t be difficult at all, said Ali, the Qatari banker who attended the opening ceremony and Sunday’s Qatar-Ecuador game. After all, he stressed, people who live in Muslim countries and play football there play alcohol-free all the time.
“Being a Muslim country, we want people to understand that you can enjoy the game without a beer in hand,” he said. “Football is for everyone, not just for beer drinkers.”