Should New Zealand sports go alcohol-free like Qatar 2022?

Experts in New Zealand are contemplating the introduction of alcohol-free sports venues, following the perceived success of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

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new zealand rugby fans waving the national flag during the rugby match

Emeritus Professor Doug Sellman, a specialist in addiction medicine, is considering whether the spectator experience could be enhanced by limiting alcohol consumption or expanding designated areas for families with children.

Many stadium owners and sports organisations in New Zealand argue that alcohol consumption does not present a significant issue at their venues, with reports suggesting that Eden Park is more concerned about “antisocial vaping.”

Nonetheless, Sellman believes that establishing alcohol-free or alcohol-limited zones could yield benefits, including “enhanced safety for families and a more authentic enjoyment of the spectacle and event for all.”

Sellman, who retired last December, formerly held the post of Director at the University of Otago’s National Addiction Centre from 1996 to 2017, and served as Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine from 2006 to 2022. He now acts as the medical spokesperson for the Alcohol Action New Zealand watchdog group.

He drew attention to reports that the FIFA World Cup matches occurred “without any noteworthy alcohol-fuelled disorder, and the considerable restriction of alcohol at the games in Qatar was undeniably the key factor.”

The World Cup in Qatar received widespread acclaim for its security and safety, with a welcoming atmosphere allowing families to attend without worry.

Qatari officials enforced a ban on alcohol sales near or within football stadiums, a decision that garnered praise from various communities, especially families and women.

Although alcohol availability at venues and fan zones was initially assured by the tournament’s organisers, and FIFA reportedly had a £572,000 sponsorship deal with American beer giant Budweiser, a last-minute decision prioritised spectator safety.

Female fans at the tournament remarked that the move helped to reduce the hostile environment often linked to football matches.

For the first time, no English or Welsh football supporters were arrested during the first two rounds, according to Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit.

“The atmosphere at all the home nations games was passionate but friendly, and it would be fantastic to see this replicated at matches back home throughout the rest of the season. Traditionally we do have few arrests of our fans at World Cups, but to have zero isn’t something we have seen before.”

He added that the UK should “abandon plans to reintroduce alcohol in the stands,” in light of the fan experience in Qatar.

FIFA already introduced Alcohol-Free Areas within the stadium used for FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, which was a step in the right direction for promoting a safe and inclusive environment for attendees.

As more sporting events embrace similar policies, one can’t help but wonder what the future holds for alcohol restrictions at major events. The successful implementation of alcohol restrictions at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar proved to be a significant turning point in this trend. Will we see a broader shift towards alcohol-free zones at sporting venues worldwide, or will this remain a case-by-case decision? Only time will tell how the global sports community responds to the evolving relationship between alcohol and spectator experience.

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