By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar will permit ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup soccer matches starting three hours before kickoff and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match, a source with knowledge of plans for the tournament said.
Budweiser, a major World Cup sponsor with exclusive rights to sell beer at the tournament, will serve beer within the ticketed perimeter surrounding each stadium, but not in the stadium stands or concourse, the source said.
This year's World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim country with strict controls on alcohol, presenting unique challenges for organisers of an event sponsored by a major beer brand and often associated with beer-drinking fans.
"Beer will be available when gates open, which is three hours before kick off. Whoever wants to have a beer will be able to. And then when they leave the stadium as well for one hour after the final whistle," the source said.
Additionally, Budweiser will be permitted to serve beer in part of the main FIFA fan zone in central Doha from 6:30pm to 1:00am every day of the 29-day tournament, which kicks off on Nov. 20, the source said.
At previous World Cup tournaments, beer was served in fan zones all day long.
The decision about where and when beer will be sold to fans is now finalised, but the price fans will be charged for a beer is still under discussion, the source said.
"We are working closely with FIFA, which is managing the relationship with the Qatari authorities, to ensure our activations for the tournament are executed respectfully and in compliance with local rules and regulations," a spokesperson for Budweiser brewer AB InBev said in an emailed statement.
Qatar's World Cup organisers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not respond to requests for comment about the World Cup controls on alcohol. Qatar's government media office directed requests to the Supreme Committee.
There are four matches scheduled on most days of the tournament's group stage, with the earliest match kicking off at 1 p.m.
It was not immediately clear how Qatar will handle beer sales ahead of the 1 p.m. Wales and Iran game on Friday Nov. 25, when most Muslims in Qatar will be gathering at mosques for the weekly congregational prayer.
Qatar currently requires most shops and restaurants in the country to close during Friday prayers.
Questions have swirled around the role alcohol would play at this year's World Cup since Qatar won hosting rights in 2010. While not a "dry" state like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, consuming alcohol in public places is illegal in Qatar.
Visitors cannot bring alcohol into Qatar, even from airport duty free, and they cannot buy alcohol at the country's only liquor store, on the outskirts of Doha. Only foreign residents with permits can shop there for home consumption.
Visitors can drink at a few dozen licensed hotels and clubs, where a pint of beer can cost $18.
Budweiser will sell its non-alcoholic beer, Budweiser Zero, in stadium concourses and stands during games and at other fan sites, the source said.
"We always respect the local customs and culture in the markets in which we operate or host events," a spokesperson for AB InBev told Reuters in an emailed statement.
"Our promotion and activation of Budweiser Zero during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar will target the international guests coming to enjoy and celebrate football at the fan sites."
(Reporting by Andrew Mills; Editing by Ken Ferris)