In 2022, soccer fans attending the FIFA World Cup could have more to worry about than whether or not their team wins.
FIFA announced Thursday that Qatar has won the bid to host the World Cup in 2022. Qatar is a conservative country with a legal system based on Muslim Shariah law, a code of law which does not tolerate behavior like public drunkenness and some of the other more charming behaviors that occur when hundreds of thousands of soccer fans band together to watch their teams play.
“If they caught you outside swigging from a can of beer, you would almost certainly get arrested,” said Simon Henderson, The Baker Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
To be drinking a beer, of course, fans would have to find beer, which would be a challenge in and of itself, says Henderson. “Can you go to a liquor store? Well, there aren’t any liquor stores,” he said.
But all hope is not lost.
“At least the decent hotels have small bars in them,” said Henderson.
“The big question,” he continued, “is what happens when lots of people arrive in Qatar, hordes of football people. Will there be enough hotel rooms? Probably not…Will there be enough bars? Almost certainly not.”
Like Saudi Arabia, Qatar has a more conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, though Henderson says that “Qatar has made more compromises with foreigners and is slightly more relaxed” than Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, Henderson likened Qatar to “a conservative town in the United States.”
“If you dressed inappropriately or behaved inappropriately in a conservative town,” he pointed out, people would be upset.
The definition of ‘inappropriate,’ however, is slightly different in Qatar. Many fans, especially males, Henderson points out, “tend to wear, especially in hot climates, shorts and t-shirts.”
“In most parts of Qatar, except for a beach,” Henderson said, “that would be considered inappropriate.”
According to its 2022 FIFA World Cup Bid Evaluation Report, afternoon temperatures are likely to be above 98 degrees during the World Cup.
Asked about the reaction to making out in public, for instance, Henderson replied: “If you held a woman’s hand, unless she was your wife, that would also be considered inappropriate.”
“If two men or two women held each other’s hands, this would also be considered inappropriate,” he continued.
As to how harshly such “inappropriate” behavior would be punished, Henderson is not so sure.
“What would they do about it? When there are a hundred thousand people there? Probably not a lot,” he said.
“Are people going to be beheaded or lashed or something like that? The answer is almost certainly not,” he added, noting that he wasn’t certain that either of those punishments ever occur in Qatar.
But there may yet be need for caution.
“At the moment if you are an expatriate and you live in Qatar and you behave inappropriately,” Henderson said, citing, for example, public drunkenness or public urination, you will likely be thrown in jail for a couple of days and then kicked out of the country.
FIFA did not address these concerns in its evaluation of Qatar’s bid for the World Cup. Luckily, they have twelve years in which to do so.