Tue, 31 Jan 2023

As the mid-morning sun beat down, a guard standing in front of a giant fan and sporting a yellow hi-vis jacket checked the email showing permit number 500690. A smile and he allowed access past the barrier to the car park of the Qatar Distribution Company where customers from earlier trips to buy alcohol packed their wares into the boots of their cars.

The email counselled arrival five minutes before the alloted slot of 11am-11:15am.

But the guards verifying the permit number anew weren't standing on such ceremony.

And ahead of time, the experience. Queen's We Are The Champions oozed from the loud speakers as trolleys were nudged past shelves stacked with tequilas, vodkas, and various brands of whisky.

That section of the brightly lit hangar segued into the wines - some fortified - from around the world: Australia, Chile, Argentina, Portugal, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Lebanon.

Prices

A Taylor's 10-year-old tawny port cost 276 riyal (72 euros) and its 20-year-old brother 523 (136).

A 2020 Moreau & Fils Les Petits Dieux Chablis was available for 184 riyal (48) euros and a Moet et Chandon Rose Imperial for 750 riyal.

Near the box wines lodged the banks of beer six-packs as well as individual bottles of Budweiser and Tiger beer.

Prices perhaps a tad higher than in their countries of origin. But at least available some 15 kilometres west of Doha city centre during a World Cup month where access to alcohol has been restricted to hotel bars and swish restaurants.

The Abu Hamour site of the Qatar Distribution Company - QDC - is the only place for residents with permits to come in on foot or by car between 7.15am and 10pm every day to buy drinks of varying degrees of intensity. A QDC at the West Bay Hotel Park in the city centre is reserved for shoppers in vehicles.

Just before the start of the World Cup, members of the media were given the chance to apply online for a temporary permit to buy up to 2,000 riyal worth of drinks.

Procedure

"The link should not be shared with individuals outside the media representative's organisation," the invitation warned.

Name, passport number, email address as well as the name of the media company had to be given.

But there was no guarantee that the application would be approved.

However, once granted, an email arrived with login credentials to the QDC's website.

That approval took on a level of privilege on the eve of the World Cup when Fifa, which organises the event, announced that it would ban the sale of alochol in the precincts around the eight stadiums hosting the matches.

Visit

Fans would still be able to buy alcohol at the official fan zones, however.

Once in Qatar, I made an appointment to visit the QDC during the first rest day of the tournament.

After a stay lasting half an hour or so longer than the alloted 15 minutes, I finally went up to the check-out with a bottle of wine, a small bottle of rum from India and some salami from the deli in the QDC.

Offer

Before the purchase was completed, the permit number was checked again as well as my passport.

I was, I thought rather cheekily, also asked if I wanted to buy some beer on a special offer.

I declined, paid 86 riyals and headed out to the sunshine with a black plastic bag and some 1,900 riyal of bingeing left of my allowance.

One couple, clutching a few bags between them, seemed equally sober.

"I don't drink," explained Manak Singh who moved to Doha from Vancouver eight months ago with his wife, Mania.

"But we're buying a few bottles for guests who are coming round for dinner tomorrow night.

"As a couple, we really don't care whether alcohol is available or not," Singh added.

"But we can understand it's a bit annoying for people who do want to have a drink ... having to book an appointment."

And they headed to their car with the modest haul.

Others left as nimbly while some veered off with trolleys so handsomely stacked they had the turning circle of a fully-loaded oil tanker.

With black bag safely ensconced in my back pack, I set off across the car park to hail a taxi for the voyage back to the city centre.

And, courtesy of a bit of organisation, the prospect of a glass of wine.

Originally published on RFI

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