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#FootballFever | World Cup fans find booze at hotels, Qatar’s one liquor store

Published:Monday | December 5, 2022 | 8:09 AM
Staff member pours a beer at a fan zone ahead of the FIFA World Cup, in Doha, Qatar Saturday, November 19, 2022. The last-minute decision to ban the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums in Qatar is the latest example of some the tensions that have played out ahead of the tournament. Qatari officials have for long said they were eager to welcome everybody, but that visitors should also respect their culture and traditions. (AP Photo/Petr Josek)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — In a dusty neighbourhood on the outskirts of Qatar's capital, guards stand duty at a gated compound ringed with razor wire, carefully checking passports and permits before allowing anyone inside.

But this isn't a prison or a high-security area associated with the ongoing World Cup.

It's the liquor store.

Rigid limits on alcohol are a fact of life in this conservative Muslim nation on the Arabian Peninsula, which follows the same strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam as its neighbour Saudi Arabia. Soccer fans coming to Qatar for the World Cup got a taste of that just before the tournament as authorities cancelled beer sales at stadiums.

Yet corks continue to be popped in luxury boxes at games. Fans are filling pints from beer towers at dozens of hotel bars, lounges and nightclubs with liquor licenses. Sales of US$14 Budweisers at Doha's FIFA Fan Zone continue unabated.

“Not to say that you need alcohol to fuel your life, but it's a good time,” said Ed Ball, an American who created an online map for imbibers in Doha to find bars. “The idea being passed around that you can't drink in Qatar is wrong. There are places.”

In addition to the bars, there's the liquor store where non-Muslim residents and visitors can shop after applying for a government-issued license. Located next to an Indian school in Doha's dusty Abu Hamour neighbourhood, it is run by the Qatar Distribution Company, a state-owned enterprise under the umbrella of Qatar Airways, which holds exclusive rights to distribute alcohol and pork in the country.

The store — currently the only one selling liquor in Qatar — operates on an appointment system, harkening back to the strict coronavirus regulations that governed the country prior to just before the World Cup.

On a recent visit, guards twice checked an Associated Press reporter's identifications and appointments. Razor wire tops the compound's high walls, which bar the public from a peek inside. Signs warn that any abuse aimed at the guards can result in an alcohol licence being revoked. Empty silver-coloured beer kegs are piled up in the parking lot.

At the end of a chlorine-scented walkway, customers reach the entrance to the store. Inside, the shelves and stands are stocked with bottles of wine largely running from US$12.50 up to US$45. A litre of Absolut vodka goes for $42, while a litre of Jack Daniels whiskey sets a shopper back US$70. A 24-pack of standard Budweiser cans costs nearly US$52.

A small section of the store offers frozen pork pepperoni pizzas, slabs of bacon, Spam and cans of pork and beans.

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