After years of anticipation – and controversy – since Qatar won the World Cup, the tournament finally got underway in Doha on Sunday.
Even before a ball was kicked, some sore spots developed. Despite years of planning, in a surprise U-turn, Qatar announced a ban on alcoholic beer in the eight stadiums hosting the World Cup just two days before the start of the tournament.
Now fans traveling to the country may be wondering where they stand with the rest of the local laws and customs of the host country.
The sale and consumption of alcohol has been a highly contentious issue since Qatar was first announced as host of the World Cup 12 years ago.
The Muslim country is considered very conservative and strictly regulates the sale and consumption of alcohol.
In Qatar, it is illegal to be seen drunk in public and those found violating this may face legal consequences. According to the UK government’s advice on travel to Qatar, drinking in a public place “could result in a prison sentence of up to six months and/or a fine of up to Qatar Rials 3,000 (US$824)”.
In September, Qatar said it would allow ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup matches three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
Two days before the first game, the world football association FIFA confirmed that no alcohol would be sold in the eight stadiums in which the 64 games of the tournament will be played.
Alcohol will only be served at designated fan parks and other licensed venues in Doha, FIFA said in a statement.
“There will be […] over 200 places to buy alcohol in Qatar and over 10 fan zones where over 100,000 people can drink alcohol at the same time,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Saturday.
“Personally, I think if you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.
“Especially because in France or in Spain or in Portugal or in Scotland the same rules actually apply, where now beer is no longer allowed in stadiums,” he added.
Still, some fans can consume alcohol at games — at a cost. Backers can purchase a match hospitality package with prices ranging from $950 to $4,950 per game for various services and including alcohol.
A spokeswoman for Match Hospitality told CNN Sport that their packages would not be affected by the FIFA policy change.
Nonetheless, alcohol is available in licensed hotel restaurants and bars, and expatriates living in Qatar can obtain alcohol under a permit scheme, the UK government has recommended.
Sex outside of marriage is illegal in Qatar, and intimacy between men and women in public can lead to arrest.
Sex between men is also illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in the country, and a Human Rights Watch report published last month documented cases as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily detaining LGBT people and beating them ” abuse in detention.”
A Qatar government official told CNN in a recent statement that the World Cup host was an inclusive country.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar,” the statement read, adding, “Our track record has shown that we have offered a warm welcome to all people regardless of their background.”
And to ensure that there is no discrimination of any kind, according to FIFA, measures such as human rights training with public and private security forces and the enactment of legislation to protect everyone have been implemented.
A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), which has been responsible for overseeing infrastructure projects and planning for the World Cup since its inception in 2011, said it was committed to “an inclusive and non-discriminatory” World Cup, noting that the country has hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since the World Cup was awarded in 2010.
Despite this, mixed messages came from Qatar in the run-up to the tournament, when a World Cup ambassador and former soccer player Khalid Salman said in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF earlier this month that homosexuality is “damage to the mind”.
Winter in Qatar is a relative term as temperatures are still expected to hover around 30 degrees Celsius (about 86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Despite the heat, all visitors to Qatar should “show respect for the local culture by avoiding overly revealing clothing in public,” according to the country’s tourism authority, adding that both men and women are advised to pad their knees and shoulders cover.
According to UK government advice, men and women are “recommended not to wear shorts or sleeveless tops when visiting government buildings, healthcare facilities or shopping malls” and if you don’t you could be asked to leave the building or you could be asked to leave access will be denied.
However, the US Embassy in Qatar advises that dress standards may vary depending on the neighborhood or facility you are in. CNN teams in Doha have seen many tourists wearing shorts.
Illicit drug use in Qatar can result in hefty fines and long jail terms, according to the US State Department — including possession of marijuana/THC, CBD products, and vape products.
But there are also restrictions on some prescription drugs, such as stimulants, anxiety medication and strong pain relievers, and visitors are advised to check the prohibited substances list before traveling.
According to Freedom House, the independent watchdog funded by the US government, there is a sliding scale of freedom in the world.
Qatar, for example, scores a meager 25 on Freedom House’s 0-100 scale, which combines access to political rights and civil liberties. But it’s not the country with the fewest points participating in the World Cup; Saudi Arabia scores a 7 and Iran a 14.
The US isn’t the freest either. Canada gets a 98 and Uruguay and Denmark a 97, while the US gets an 83.
There is no legal guarantee of freedom of the press or freedom of expression in Qatar, the US Embassy in Qatar notes.
According to the US State Department, anyone convicted of “defamation, profanation or blasphemy” against Islam, Christianity or Judaism can face up to seven years in prison, and public worship of non-Islamic faiths and atheism are illegal.
Meanwhile, attempts to convert someone from another religion or even “share your faith” can result in imprisonment or deportation.
Tensions are often high at international football matches and it’s not uncommon for scuffles between fans from rival countries both inside and outside stadiums – but swearing and rude gestures are considered obscene acts in Qatar.
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