18 November 2022

Decision to ban alcohol at World Cup leaves complex legal mess – leading expert

18 November 2022

The decision to ban the sale of alcohol to fans at World Cup stadiums in Qatar just two days ahead of the start of the tournament will have left FIFA a complicated legal mess to resolve, according to a leading expert.

Budweiser, one of FIFA’s headline sponsors, was set to be the only alcoholic beverage available to supporters at the eight host venues.

However, following Friday’s unexpected announcement by the governing body, now no one attending matches will be able to consume alcohol within the stadium perimeter – apart from those in corporate hospitality areas.

FIFA’s statement said the removal of sales points of beer from the stadium perimeters had come following discussions with the host country authorities, who are understood to be concerned over the impact having alcohol available to purchase would have on fans who do not have drinking as part of their culture.

Budweiser is reported to shell out some 75 million US dollars (around £62.86m) every four years to be one of FIFA’s top tier partners. Following FIFA’s statement, a tweet was posted on the brewing company’s main account which said: “Well, this is awkward”, before being subsequently deleted.

Elaina Bailes, a committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, believes it will take a while for all parties to unpick the legal ramifications of Friday’s announcement – and at some cost.

“All of this bad publicity for FIFA, and these contractual disputes can take a long time as well,” she told the PA news agency.

“Budweiser would be looking at what impact it has had on that whole supply chain – and there could be multi-party litigation arising from it, so it will probably be a mess.

“Parties go into a contract making certain assumptions about today’s world and actually when something radically changes, then everyone is sort of scrambling around to work out how to move forward without losing a lot of money, but sometimes there isn’t an answer apart for litigation.”

Bailes, an experienced commercial litigator, feels while companies may try to protect themselves against every eventuality, working out just who should shoulder responsibility is unlikely to be a straightforward process.

“There will be standard provisions such as force majeure, or the other interesting thing is illegality,” she said.

“I would have thought that going into a World Cup in Qatar, the commercial parties would have thought about the fact that the authorities could take a stance on things, so there might be something written into the contract which provides for exactly this situation.

“For example, if the Qatari authorities said ‘no, you can’t have beer at the stadiums’ then that would be a possible defence for FIFA to say ‘well, look, it is illegal for us to perform this contract’ and that might get them out of some liability.

“But what I think is quite interesting about the statement that FIFA has put out is that they said ‘we have agreed with the Qatari authorities’, so there is no sort of suggestion that they are being forced into it.

“Maybe that is to do with the politics of it all, but that surprised me a bit because if you are basically saying ‘well, look, we came to an agreement with somebody else, which has caused us to be kind of potentially be in breach of our contract’, then that does seem rather bizarre.”

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