CAN the number of football fans coming to Qatar seriously offer an indication to the brewing success of the world’s biggest tournament?
Only a little over 765,000 visitors reportedly landed up in Doha in the first two weeks of the FIFA World Cup 2022, falling well short of the expectations of the Arab country.
Qatar, which became the first Arab country to host the showpiece football event, had expected an influx of around 1.2 million visitors.
It’s highly unlikely that the number will double in the next 10 days even as a blockbuster quarter-finals line-up awaits the World Cup. With only eight teams left in action, Qatar is unlikely to meet their expected target, according to multiple media reports.
The report which identified the numbers was prepared by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), which organises the tournament. And half of the 765,000 have now left the country at the end of the Round of 16.
The peak period which the organisers expected for visitor influx was between November 24 and 28 during which the action-packed group stages was heading towards its climax.
There was plenty of action during the group stage as teams like Japan, South Korea and Australia and African sides Senegal and Morocco pulled off a few surprises with former champions Japan and World No. 2 Belgium being shown the door.
The report registered 1.33 million match ticket holders and 3.09 million tickets sold across the eight stadiums for the World Cup, which will end on December 18. The stadium attendance at the first 52 matches was 2.65 million.
Notably, FIFA president Gianni Infantino claimed record-breaking viewership for the group stage, saying the action in the first phase of the World Cup was one of the best in the history of the tournament.
“Fantastic atmosphere, great goals, incredible excitement, surprises, small teams beating big teams,” he was reportedly quoted.
“Well, there are no more small teams and no more big teams. The level is very, very equal.
“For the first time as well, national teams from all continents going to the knock-out phase, for the first time in history. This shows that football is really becoming truly global.”
The organisers were expecting more visitors to flock to Qatar for popular matches and after the country lifted entry restrictions for nationals and residents of fellow Gulf states.
It is learnt on Tuesday, hundreds of Moroccan fans flew into Qatar on special flights arranged ahead of their team’s victory over Spain. Similar fights will be laid on to allow last-minute fans to fly in from overseas to watch their teams advance through the tournament’s final three rounds.
POINTS OF ENTRY FOR FANS
The points of entry have also been very restrictive, too. Visitors to Qatar must obtain a Hayya identification card ahead of travel as it doubles as a mandatory entry visa during the tournament period. But on Tuesday, Qatar dropped this requirement for Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Some surveys have also shown that the Qatar World Cup stands as one of the most expensive in the history of the sport in terms of tickets, accommodation and alcohol sales, which is also banned at the stadium.
“Staging it for the first time in the Middle East marks massive steps and risks for the organisers,” says award-winning Singapore coach Jita Singh, now in Doha, with his family.
“But most view it, even including me, as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the best football tournament over a month.”
* Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor.
Here are more stories related to the FIFA World Cup.