On 29 July 2021, in preparation for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022, His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani enacted Law No. 10 of 2021 regarding the Measures for Hosting the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 (the “Enabling Law”). While the Enabling Law generally provides for the operational framework for the hosting of the World Cup in Qatar, certain implementing regulations are still required to be issued to ensure Qatar’s full compliance with its obligations and guarantees as the host country.
One important government guarantee that Qatar needs to comply with is warranting that FIFA, its Subsidiaries and Entities shall have unconditional authority to conduct business activities in relation to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 (“Competition”). This means that the Qatar government has been obliged to ensure that there shall be no restriction in the performance of activities and in exercising commercial rights by FIFA and/or by any of its associated entities, including FIFA’s sponsors, and commercial affiliates.
VISA, a financial services corporation, is one of FIFA’s sponsors for the Competition. They have been granted exclusivity in stadium purchases and ticket purchases to the matches. However, the potential exercise of the said exclusivity right is in direct conflict with the existing Circular No. 95 of 2013 issued by Qatar Central Bank (“QCB”) in 2013 (the “2013 Circular”).
In brief, the 2013 Circular provides for two directives to all banks operating in Qatar: (i) that they should not allow their customers to use debit cards through websites; and (ii) that the debits cards should only be allowed to be used through QCB’s e-payment gateway (“QPAY”) by entering the card’s PIN number. The purpose of the directives is to restrict and regulate the use of debit cards as a payment method for online purchases made through websites. QCB declares in the same Circular that such payment method involves high risks, which could expose customers to possibility of having their personal information obtained illegally and for third parties to use their cards without their consent, thereby causing them damages and losses.
Ultimately, the implication of the 2013 Circular with regard to the Competition is that for online purchases (e.g. online purchase of tickets or online bookings for hotels), the use of debit cards as payment method could only be processed through QCB’s exclusive payment gateway known as QPAY, and not through other payment gateway or payment networks. Accordingly, the 2013 Circular imposes a challenge on VISA’s exclusivity rights which have been granted to them by FIFA for the duration of Competition.
In order to resolve the restriction arising from the 2013 Circular, QCB has recently issued Circular No. 3 of 2022 (the “New Circular”). The New Circular provides that during the period from ten (10) days prior to the first match of the Competition and until five (5) days after the last match of the Competition, VISA debit cards may be used exclusively for online purchases, mobile app purchases and at event locations including at tickets sales venues. Any such payment shall be processed through VISA’s own electronic payment gateway, rather than through QPAY. In effect, for the duration of the competition, the exclusive use of QCB’s e-payment gateway for debit cards have been temporarily suspended in order to allow VISA to exercise its exclusivity rights, as one of FIFA’s sponsors.
The New Circular allows the promotion and advertisement of VISA’s exclusive services in relation to online sales, and ATM machines at events locations, while it has been exempted from any requirement to display the commercial name or logo of any other service provider.
The issuance of the New Circular further demonstrates Qatar’s commitment to the guarantees and obligations afforded to FIFA as the host country for Competeiton. The New Circular is only one of the many implementing decisions and circulars that are expected to be issued from Qatar government and relevant authorities while we close in on the opening of Competition in the State of Qatar by end of this year.
Salman Al-Ansari Richelle Segura
Partner Senior Associate
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