Doha, Qatar — Abdulla Murad Ali placed his hands on his heart and said his country welcomed everyone coming to the World Cup.
The Qatari banker wants soccer fans to regard the host country of the event as their second home. His only request? They should also respect their culture.
“Qatar is an Islamic country, and alcohol is’ haram ‘[forbidden] in our religion. We’re just asking the world to show some “ehtaram” (respect) to our culture,” he told CNN Breaking News on Monday, a day after the tournament’s opening game.
Ali was referring to the excitement of some fans over FIFA’s decision last Friday to ban alcohol at tournament venues. Spirits will continue to be available in select hotels, bars and the official FIFA Fan Zone.
However, the international soccer authority’s decision was criticized by some fans because of its timing. In the run-up to England’s first game of the tournament against Iran on Monday, some angry fans were seen complaining about a lack of understanding of their “drinking culture.”
Some were seen asking mall security, much to their confusion, for directions to a place where they could find an alcoholic beverage. Some fans that CNN Breaking News spoke to on Friday said they feel they’ve been misled by FIFA.
“If FIFA banned alcohol when Qatar was announced as host, it would have been different,” said Federico Farraz, a soccer fan from Portugal, while drinking a cup of tea in Souq Waqif in Doha. “Even if the decision had been made a few months before the tournament, people who had been planning this trip for years would have understood.”
For others, the decision, which FIFA said followed talks with the host country, was a relief.
Sonia Nemmas is a Jordanian mother of three girls who grew up in a football-crazy household. The family has tickets to a late-night game and is concerned about being in a stadium where drunken fans might be present.
“When we travel to other countries, we don’t ask them why we’re asked to follow their rules or respect their culture,” she said with a shrug. “We’re making it easy.” On Friday evening, the weekend in Qatar, she was out and about in downtown Doha to take part in the festivities.
Her daughters were with her and wore the keffiyeh as a nod to their Jordanian identity while showing their support for Qatar by wearing the host country’s flags and hats.
Nemmas referred to the alcohol-related violence that broke out at Wembley Stadium during the 2020 European Championship final in England last year. It’s not something she wants to see in Qatar.
While some England fans have expressed their unhappiness with the ban on social media and in public, others said it wouldn’t stop them from having a good time.
Ahmed Muhammad, a Doha-based schoolteacher from England, said it was unfair to paint all English fans with the same brush. “England fans are generally shown as hooligans, but that’s only a small minority,” he said, soaking in the atmosphere at Souq Waqif with his young son. “The majority are respectful and play by the rules.”
Muhammed said that while there would be some unhappy English fans, most would respect the decision and enjoy themselves.
That shouldn’t be hard at all, suggested Ali, the Qatari banker, who attended the opening ceremony and match between Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday. Finally, he pointed out that people who live in and watch soccer in Muslim countries always get by without alcohol.
“Since we’re a Muslim country, we want people to understand that you can enjoy the game without a beer in your hand,” he said. “Football is for everyone, not just for people who want to drink beer.”