The world cup has begun, and instead of all the focus being on the incredible football and the tournament itself, it is still tarnished by the strict law differences in Qatar. Thousands of fans from all over the globe have headed to the Gulf country to support their teams, knowing full well that this may be unlike any tournament experienced before. Essentially all recreational substances are banned in Qatar, with very strict punishment for those who ignore the rules.
Even alcohol has harsh restrictions. With human rights violations and bans on same sex marriage a massive problem in Qatar, a limitation on drug use seems like a walk in the park. But, let’s see what would actually happen if you were caught taking specific substances within the world cup host nation.
Qatar Host Nation
Qatar is a small gulf country – with a population lower than 3 million – that sits on the Arab peninsula. Made up of beaches and deserts, this middle eastern nation once just contained fishing villages for traders going between India and China to visit. After the first world war Britain ruled over Qatar, until they gained independence in 1971. Nowadays, the country is hugely wealthy due to their access to vital resources – these include oil and natural gas. In fact, Qatar has the third largest natural gas collection in the world. This is after Iran and Russia. To put this into perspective, 14% of the people living in Qatar are millionaires. Due to such a small population, the nation is considered one of the wealthiest in the world per person. It is believed that Qatar owns more property in the capital of England – London – than even the royal family.
Nonetheless, with a lack of football culture, when the decision was made to allow Qatar to host the 2022 world cup, many were left confused. It seemed evident that the usually corrupt Fifa had yet again been swayed by the powerful money of a rich nation. The Guardian writes:
“In the years since, 16 of 22 voting exco members present in that hall have been implicated in or investigated over some form of alleged corruption or bad practice… In 2019 there were allegations Fifa had benefited from a $400m rights deal with Al Jazeera, Qatar’s state TV station, offered just 21 days before the bid decision, with an extra $100m top-up should Qatar succeed.”
But ultimately it would be the people, as usual, who would suffer. Qatar is a tiny nation and they were left with the task of spending 220 billion dollars to create the world cup infrastructure that was needed in a very short amount of time. How did they find the workforce to do this? Migrant workers coming from nations like India and Nepal were paid abominably low amounts of money in order to help build up this flawed tournament. It is believed that 6600 of these workers have already died due to unsafe conditions and overworking. But these aren’t the only problems that have arisen. Qatar’s laws on women’s rights and same sex marriage are something from the stone ages, with women being under guardianship law and any same sex sexual activity being deemed illegal. Human Dignity Trust writes:
“Human Rights Watch reported that security forces have been arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to ill-treatment in detention in the country… Preventive Security Department officers detained them in an underground prison in Al Dafneh, Doha, where they were verbally harassed and subjected to physical abuse, ranging from slapping, to kicking and punching until they bled.”
Needless to say, it seems that this world cup is surrounded by tarnishing controversy. In essence, it probably should not have happened this way and Fifa’s name will – hopefully – be deeply damaged. But alongside all this are other issues that are, perhaps less extreme, but have also caused disruption. Qatar’s strict substance laws are causing problems for those who are used to far more leniency.
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Drug Laws in Qatar
According to the government website, Qatar has 0 tolerance for drug-related offences. This doesn’t seem to matter if you are a tourist or not. If you’re discovered using, trafficking, smuggling or possessing any substances from a long list, you are likely to face severe punishment. But how severe? We’re going to go through some of the most common recreational substances that people may want to take during the world cup, and see how risky it really is. Let’s go.
Hard Recreational Drugs
When it comes to hard recreational drugs, Qatar seems to have a blanket decision on all of them. Whether it’s heroin, MDMA, ketamine, cocaine or whatever – the laws are extremely strict. If found in possession of any of these substances, fines could go up to $50,000. But if anyone is found trafficking hard drugs then the death penalty is also possible. Therefore, if there are any drug dealers out there who are considering Qatar an open market ready to be filled, we would advise to certainly reconsider.
There are no exceptions made for foreign nationals and the embassies of these nations have very little power to interject, especially when it comes to drug laws. If there’s one place you want to avoid taking harder substances, it is Qatar. There is evidence that the country is moving away from their 0-tolerance approach however, but nothing has yet officially changed. The Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics has said:
“Qatar has moved away from treating drug addiction merely as a criminal matter and is recognising it as a health and social challenge and a human rights issue. The right to health includes the right to obtain health services without fear of punishment. ”
The issue is, with a population made up of the wealthy, it is hard for those below to make the case for a change in drug laws. The culture is not yet there like it is with Europe, the US and other areas of the world.
If you’re hoping that prescription medicine may be easier to get through border control than you are wrong. You will need a very exact letter from your doctor for any substances. This needs to include the exact amount that you are allowed, the reason why and any other information. The most they will allow you to bring in is for a 30 day period. Qatar has also banned the use of tranquillisers, antidepressants and certain sleeping pills. If you are hoping to carry these substances in your hand luggage, it is probably a good idea to speak to your embassy in Qatar just to ensure the specific rules.
Otherwise, you may face anything from confiscation, a fine, or even deportation. Over the last few weeks, Qatar customs officers have stopped around 2000 opiate pills from coming into the country. These passengers are awaiting their court cases. With prescription medicine, ensure you have all the backup documents you need. Don’t go bringing some random valium or Xanax without a note.
Cannabis is treated as harshly as any other drug in Qatar. Despite hashish being known to be world-class in that section of the world, the cultivation, sale and possession of weed is completely illegal. In fact, there was a British tourist who was found with a cannabis grinder in his luggage in 2019 who faced years in a Qatari prison. He was able to leave the country but they attempted to extradite him back when he was visiting Greece. Fortunately, he won his case. This is an example of the kinds of harsh realities that can be faced if found with even just cannabis accessories.
In Qatar, the legal age of alcohol consumption is 21. Of course for Muslims, who make up a large amount of the Qatari population, it is illegal. The ban on alcohol in Qatar is what has been getting all of the headlines. Many people are contemptuous of avoiding hard drugs throughout the world cup, but not drinking for them is not an option. You only have to watch a video on Youtube of hundreds of fans cheering and throwing their beers when their side scores a goal to realise how integral drinking culture is when it comes to major tournaments. That said, any alcohol-related violence or serious disturbance should not be permitted anywhere in the world.
At the world cup, alcohol is not easy to access. It is banned in stadiums and is completely illegal to drink in public areas. There are designated hotels and spots where alcohol is allowed, but the prices are extortionate. Half a litre of beer costs 50 Qatari riyals, which is equal to around 12 dollars. The whole affair has made alcohol quite appealing to a lot of supporters. However, it has also meant that many fans have attempted to smuggle alcohol into stadiums – with one individual turning a pair of binoculars into a discreet booze bottle. For anyone found drinking in a public place, they could face a 6 month prison sentence or a fine of up to $700.
Vapes & Cigarettes
Oddly enough, vapes are another banned substance or device in Qatar. If you’re someone who enjoys an e-cig then make sure you don’t bring it to the world cup. Cigarettes are very much legal to buy in the country, with 25% of Qatari men smoking, but there is a strict vape ban. This has been the case since 2014. If you’re found with a vape you can face fines of up to $2,700 or a prison sentence up to 3 months. Only around 0.6% of women smoke in Qatar, which is likely to do with their guardianship laws. These essentially do not allow women to marry, study abroad or find a job without permission from their male guardian.
As you can see, the Qatar world cup is surrounded with controversy. The human rights violations alone are enough of a reason to avoid visiting. Many female footballers have boycotted the tournament altogether in response to the horrific women’s rights there. Even the ‘OneLove’ armband – supporting LGBT rights – has been banned by Fifa. Many players have resisted wearing it in fear of sanctions. Ultimately, the Qatar world cup should probably not have gone ahead. Nonetheless, if you still want to enjoy the tournament and support your team, then definitely be careful when it comes to substance use. Qatar have some of the strictest drug laws in the world.
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