Police chief: ‘Friendly’ World Cup shows need to resist alcohol relaxation

Ministers should resist calls to ease restrictions on drinking in UK football grounds given the lack of trouble at the Qatar World Cup, according to a police chief.

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the UK’s football policing lead, said the tournament in the Gulf state had an atmosphere similar to the “passionate but friendly” one seen at the women’s Euros earlier in the year.

He praised England and Wales fans for their “exemplary” behaviour as he said there have been no arrests and no incidents reported to them in the opening nine days of the tournament.

Mr Roberts added he hopes this continues on Tuesday when the so-called “Battle of Britain” takes place between the two home nations in their final group B game at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

After he repeatedly noted alcohol has a “detrimental effect” on people’s behaviour, Mr Roberts suggested the “relaxed” atmosphere at the World Cup should dampen any talk of lifting the ban on drinking alcohol in the stands in the UK.

It is currently prohibited to drink alcohol in view of the pitch, but there are calls to overturn the law which has been in place 36 years.

Qatar’s alcohol laws mean it is available only at licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expatriates living in the country can obtain alcohol on a permit system.

The sale of alcohol to fans at World Cup stadiums was banned two days before the tournament kicked off.

Mr Roberts, speaking to the PA news agency in Doha, said: “The main thing for us, as always, is to keep Brits safe – everyone seems to be safe – and to minimise any issues that our fans might cause the hosts, and you can’t say fairer than two games, no arrests, no incidents.”

On the impact of alcohol restrictions in Qatar, Mr Roberts said: “If you look back to the Olympic football, the women’s Euros, that really passionate but friendly atmosphere and I think alcohol we know – I bang on about it enough – about the detrimental effects on people’s behaviour.

FIFA World Cup 2022
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the UK’s football policing lead, said ministers should resist calls to ease restrictions on drinking in UK football grounds given the lack of trouble at the Qatar World Cup (Cheshire Police/PA)

“Clearly there is drink available in certain controlled environments but I think it does change the atmosphere and we’re here at this site, lots of families walking about, there isn’t any alcohol, there’s still a nice buzz about it and it does feel really relaxed, which is good.”

Mr Roberts said the previous experience of policing England v Wales at Euro 2016 in France was “really great”, adding there is “no reason to expect otherwise” on Tuesday given the behaviour of the fans on the current trip.

Asked if there is anything the UK police could learn from the operation for the World Cup in Qatar, Mr Roberts replied: “Yeah, the Government needs to drop any ideas of reintroducing alcohol in the stands.”

He added: “We’ve made our views pretty clear and as far as I can tell it’s just a recommendation out of the (Tracey) Crouch Review, but there’s no great evidence base for that.

“So I’d be hopeful that they are being responsive to it because when you balance it out, in the UK people can drink in the concourses and that’s a bit of a balance, but when you see the fans coming in, the relaxed atmosphere, you can see the clear causational link between alcohol and behaviour.

“So I think where we are is fine, I don’t see any real reason to go against all the evidence we’re seeing by taking a risk and just adding more alcohol into the mix domestically.”

Rugby League World Cup 2021 Tournament Launch – Museum of Science and Industry
Sport minister Stuart Andrew said he intends to wear the One Love armband when he attends the England v Wales match on Tuesday (Martin Rickett/PA)

Elsewhere, sports minister Stuart Andrew said he will wear the rainbow-coloured armband prohibited by Fifa when he attends the World Cup clash between England and Wales.

The Conservative frontbencher, who is gay, said it was “really unfair” that football’s governing body prevented the captains of England and Wales donning the One Love anti-discrimination armband at the 11th hour.

Seven European countries, including the two home nations, abandoned plans to wear the anti-discrimination symbol after Fifa threatened sporting sanctions.

Mr Andrew’s decision to wear the armband risks upsetting the World Cup’s Qatari hosts, with homosexuality still illegal in the Gulf state.

Fans attending matches earlier in the tournament also reported having rainbow items, including T-shirts and Wales bucket hats, confiscated by officials before Fifa later insisted they should be allowed in stadiums.

Mr Andrew told ITV News: “I will most definitely be wearing the One Love armband.

“I want to show support and I was delighted to see that the German minister who attended a recent match has worn it, I think it is important that I do so.

“And I think it’s been really unfair on the England and Welsh team that at the 11th hour they were stopped by Fifa from doing it.”

England currently top the group and need just a point to guarantee their progress to the knockout stages while Wales must win and hope for a favourable result between Iran and the USA.