As thousands of thirsty football fans from England and Wales descend on Qatar’s newly built stadiums for the World Cup this November and December, they may be in for a shock when it comes to the price of a pint. Recent reports suggest that fans may be paying as much as £12 for 500ml of Budweiser, the official beer of the tournament.
In addition, alcohol will only be available to purchase in licensed fan zones and designated areas, unlike previous tournaments where the crowd have been able to consume alcohol from the comfort of their seats. This is due to the strict laws concerning alcohol availability in the host country. Qatar is a conservative Muslim country where the availability of alcohol is tightly controlled. Alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, but most visitors are only able to consume it in hotel bars and restaurants away from public view. Being drunk in public is a crime, and it has been announced that fans who have had too much to drink will be sent to specially designated areas to sober up.
Alcohol had been expected to be available at the stadium perimeter, however, 48 hours before the beginning of the tournament it was announced that there would be no alcohol available for general sale at the stadiums. At the time of writing, alcohol will still be available to those in highly priced hospitality areas and the 0% ABV version of Budweiser will also be on general sale within the stadiums.
Alcohol and Football Fans
Whilst this might not seem like too much of an inconvenience to much of the general public, the fact is that alcohol plays a major role for many of those who attend football matches, particularly in the United Kingdom where football has deep historical and cultural links with alcohol. Alcohol consumption is generally viewed by football supporters as a predominantly social activity, which provides opportunity for bonding with friends, escapism, excitement, and enjoyment.
However, excessive alcohol consumption by those attending football matches has potential repercussions for public safety (violence, antisocial behaviour, potential fan injuries) and public health (e.g., high-risk consumption, binge drinking).
The Law in England and Wales
The laws surrounding alcohol availability at football matches in England and Wales may not be as strict as those in Qatar. However, since the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act 1985 was introduced, alcohol is only permitted to be on general sale up to 15 minutes before kick-off and at half-time, with fans unable to consume alcohol in sight of the pitch. The 1985 Act also made it an offence to: enter a football ground whilst drunk; take alcohol into a stadium; and consume alcohol on official transport to matches.
The Crouch Report
In April 2021, the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) announced proposals for a fan-led review of football governance in England as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of a European Super League. The resulting report (hereafter the Crouch Report) discussed opportunities for income generation for lower-league football clubs. This included a recommendation to amend current laws regarding alcohol sales at football grounds to allow alcohol to be consumed within sight of the pitch at League 2 and National League level via a small-scale pilot scheme. The Crouch Report also recommended a review of the legislation to determine whether it remains fit for purpose.
Understanding the Role of Alcohol Consumption in Football Cultures
Findings from our research study, ‘Understanding the Role of Alcohol Consumption in Football Cultures (Alcohol FC)’, explored the acceptability of alcohol at football matches and the role that it plays for those attending football matches in England and Scotland.
We also explored stakeholder views of current legislation and found that there is appetite amongst football fans, safety organisations and football governing bodies to review certain aspects of legislation, considering significant aspects as no longer fit for purpose.
There were mixed views from police organisations, with leading officers in England and Wales expressing concern about any easing of restrictions. Police concerns largely centred around public safety; however, it is also important to consider whether relaxing rules on alcohol could lead to higher levels of consumption in venues where children and young people are likely to be present.
We conclude that an evidence-based review of the current legislation may be appropriate. However, any future discussion regarding the laws surrounding alcohol at football grounds, including the possibility of a pilot scheme, must be subjected to full independent academic evaluation, considering the longer-term implications of such normalisation and potential for higher consumption by fans.
This means not only evaluating in terms of the financial impact but also in terms of the impact on public health and safety, such as the number of incidents that require intervention from the authorities and general behaviour and alcohol consumption of fans. These laws should be proportionate to needs, such as fan enjoyment, financial opportunity and risks to public health and safety and therefore should be evaluated considering this shared set of priorities.
Written by Dr Richard Purves, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.