DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar may create special courts during the 2022 soccer World Cup to deal quickly and "very gently" with alcohol-consuming fans who break the law in a conservative Muslim state where public drunkenness is prohibited, a Qatari official said on Monday.
Qatari officials have said that the 500,000 football fans expected to descend on their country during the World Cup will be allowed to consume alcohol in designated zones, but how to best balance the country's cultural values with FIFA's requirements for the tournament remains contentious.
"I know in South Africa there where specific courts established during the World Cup for this kind of thing, and that is something we were discussing with FIFA," the Gulf state's 2022 Committee chief Hassan Al Thawadi told journalists on the sidelines of a sports conference in Doha.
During its 2010 World Cup, South Africa set up 56 special courts to accelerate cases involving foreign fans so they could be dealt with before either suspects or witnesses left the country.
In South Africa, most court proceedings ended with fines for those found guilty. The same might apply in Qatar, though drug offences often carry jail terms.
Although not "dry" like neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, alcohol is served only at elite hotels in the Gulf state.
Public drunkenness is prohibited, as is bringing alcohol to Qatar from abroad.
"In relation to drunk fans it will be as it is anywhere else, anyone who is rowdy, anyone who breaches the law, will be very gently - depending on how they react - taken care of in a manner to make sure that people are not disrupting the public order," said Thawadi. "Everyone will be able to have fun and be exposed to Qatari culture.”
Consumption of alcohol is likely to be largely ignored by Qatar's predominantly young population, as it is swept away with the euphoria of hosting the competition, Thawadi said.
"We welcome everyone in the world. We’ve hosted many people, from many places and that (drinking) was never an issue. This will be a fun world cup. It will be one of the best cups out there."
FIFA has said it will defend the commercial rights of its sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch InBev, which will sponsor the 2022 tournament.
Brazil initially refused to sell alcohol during the matches of the 2014 World Cup, but eventually relented after pressure from FIFA.
(Reporting by Tom Finn; editing by Ralph Boulton)