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Qatar bans beer sales at World Cup stadiums, two days before it begins

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Sobering news today for many World Cup soccer fans - like, literally sobering. The sport's international governing body, FIFA, announced there will be no beer sold at the tournament's eight stadiums in the host country Qatar. The announcement, two days before the World Cup starts, disappointed fans who are used to mixing their cheering with drinking. NPR's Tom Goldman reports from Doha.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Budweiser paid $75 million to sell its beer at this World Cup, including in stadiums, hence the company's tweet, since deleted, when the news hit about the stadium beer ban. Well, the tweet read, this is awkward. For 32-year-old Ben Dawson from Manchester, England, it's more than awkward.

BEN DAWSON: A bit gutted.

GOLDMAN: A bit gutted.

DAWSON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Cheering and beering (ph) is a way of soccer life for so many fans. It always adds to the atmosphere, Dawson said as he and his dad, Martin, stood along Doha's waterfront promenade called the Corniche. But their first World Cup in person also is the first in a Muslim-majority country, where alcohol sales are tightly regulated. Qatar agreed to allow alcohol when it won the World Cup bid in 2010, but FIFA and Qatar officials have had ongoing discussions which kept inching closer to the ban. In September, there was an agreement to allow beer sales in the stadiums, but not at concession stands. Within the last week, the policy got more restrictive, moving sales to less visible spots, and then Friday's news. Raul Ambirz, a 32-year-old accountant from Morelia, Mexico, was walking the Corniche with two friends. All three wore the traditional green, red and white colors of the Mexican national team. Ambirz said, yes, he always has a beer at games but understands the World Cup ban.

RAUL AMBIRZ: Well, I mean, it's part of the culture from this country, right? And at the end of the day, we need to respect that part. So that's what we are going to do. We're here.

GOLDMAN: Thirty-four-year-old Juan Carlos Flores, a project engineer from Veracruz, says no beer will be weird. But...

JUAN CARLOS FLORES: Let me tell you that sometimes you are so drunk that you don't really pay attention on those very important moments. And sometimes it doesn't count for a lot. So now I think we are going to pay more attention to the match and, you know, enjoy it in a different way. We are still enjoying the football.

GOLDMAN: A silver lining, perhaps, for beer lovers. This could be the World Cup of the sharp, attentive fan - doesn't sound so bad to Martin Dawson if that sharpness spills onto the pitch as well. He's dubious, though. England hasn't won in its last six matches. But if his beloved Three Lions break through and win a first title since 1966, Dawson is ready to exult Qatar style.

MARTIN DAWSON: Celebrate with a big orange juice (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News, Doha.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDERSON .PAAK SONG, "FIRE IN THE SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.