Russia’s football team couldn’t hit the target against Portugal, but at least its fans could hit the bar. Russia has lifted its ban on beer sales at stadiums for the Confederations Cup tournament as part of its deal with FIFA, which has Budweiser as a key sponsor.
Ahead of Russia’s 1-0 loss to Portugal on Wednesday, fans crowded stalls surrounding the stadium which offered two brews from 200 rubles ($3.30), plus a no-alcohol option.
Lifting the ban “is the right thing to do,” said Sergei Sazonov, who sipped a beer while wearing a Russian flag and a bushy sheepskin hat typical of Russia’s Caucasus regions.
Banning beer from stadiums doesn’t mean there are no drunk fans, he reasoned. “Anyone who wants to get wasted can do that earlier in the day.”
Russia started restricting alcohol at sports events after drunken fans at an outdoor screening of a 2002 World Cup loss to Japan went on the rampage in central Moscow. A ban at all sports stadiums followed in 2005 and still applies for non-FIFA events.
Russian governments have tried for decades to reduce the country’s alcohol consumption, which ranks among the highest in the world and has been linked to many early deaths.
Alcohol isn’t a major factor in football violence, though. These days, many Russian hooligans see their fights not as beer-sodden brawls, but as a combat sport requiring sobriety and training.
Unlike Russia, 2014 World Cup host Brazil fought hard to keep a beer ban many politicians saw as a key anti-hooligan measure. FIFA eventually got its way, but alienated many Brazilians with its hard-line stance.
As strong winds and rain started to lash the crowds outside the Spartak stadium, most fans rushed inside, but a few hardy drinkers stayed on.
Olga Akenina huddled with a friend behind a beer stall, trying to stay out of the rain as they finished their lagers.
“It’s pretty good,” she said. “A lot of beer is bad, but a little bit is great.”
Akenina swiftly amended that when a gust of wind blew her beer cup off a nearby table, spattering her feet with foam. “Well, usually.”