The cost of attending the World Cup means that the showpiece tournament of the global game is now beyond the reach of almost everybody.
There are now only four days to go and even though it still doesn’t quite feel as though it’s going to happen, on Sunday afternoon the 2022 World Cup finals will kick off in Qatar. But what will this tournament even look like, and is it even reasonable to continue to describe this tournament as anything like ‘the people’s game’ when the cost of attending it is so prohibitively high?
The one thing that we can say with a degree of certainty is that boycotters hoping to see banks of empty seats are likely to be disappointed. This time last month, FIFA’s Gianni Infantino confirmed that ticket sales had reached 2.89m, and that the top ten purchasing countries of those tickets were Qatar, the United States, Saudi Arabia, England, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, France, Brazil and Germany.
In addition, more than 240,000 hospitality packages have been sold. Hospitality tickets, which allow access to luxurious stadium lounges, some with free-flowing alcoholic drinks, cost almost £29,000 per person for semi-final matches and the final, according to FIFA’s website.
It is worth pointing out that the venues being used for this tournament do not have especially large capacities for a World Cup finals. Six of the eight only hold FIFA’s minimum capacity of 40,000. By way of comparison, five of the 12 venues used in Brazil in 2014 held 60,000 or more.
And this tournament will be more concentrated than any other World Cup previously held. The most-used stadium will be the Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will host ten matches, including the final. The Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor will host nine matches, and all but these nine will be held within a 20-mile radius of the centre of Doha.
Matches are divided into four categories, with prices for Category 4 matches starting at 40 Qatari Riyals (£9.25, at the current exchange rate), but even these come with the caveat that Category 4 tickets can only be purchased by residents of the home country. But for those of the opinion that these are very cheap, it is also worth remembering that the legal minimum wage a month in Qatar (1,000 riyals) is the equivalent of about £1 an hour.
If you’re travelling from abroad, you’ll be paying even more. The cheapest tickets available to anybody travelling to the country from abroad will start at 250 Riyals (£57.80), while tickets from the quarter-finals start 750 Riyals (£173.60). Even quarter-final tickets for residents of Qatar start at 300 Riyals (£69.43).
And if you did want to see your team in the final, you may wish to speak to your bank manager first. The cheapest tickets available to non-Qatari residents for the final start at 2200 Riyals, or £509.18. Prices for general sale tickets for the final are up by 46% from the final in Russia in 2018. Ouch, indeed.
The costs are hardly any lower elsewhere. The issue of alcohol in a Muslim country was always likely to be a thorny issue, and The Times has confirmed that a not-insignificant promise has been broken. Organisers had indicated that the country’s strict alcohol laws and high prices would be relaxed for the four weeks of the tournament, stating that the price of a beer would be dropped to between £5 and £8. However, Fifa’s official beer supplier, Budweiser, is now reported to be charging 50 Riyals (£11.60) for a 500ml beer. Drowning any sorrows may well turn out to be an expensive business.
The position regarding accommodation is little better. According to a recent report by Forbes, with hotels fully booked, a 7-night stay on a cruise ship docked in Doha during the World Cup has been recently listed at around £4,200, with prices only likely to increase further as availability continues to fall.
Forbes found rooms available on the MSC Poesia cruise ship from £150 per night, with the price of a double room for most nights closer to £420. At the lowest end of the range, ‘temporary en-suite portacabins’ for up to two people were available at around £170 per night. The Polish financial services company Conotoxia has estimated that the cost of supporting your team all the way to the final could be more than £15,000, with a two-person 10-day trip for the group stages alone costing a minimum of around £5,000.
At these prices, it seems reasonable to say that the 2022 World Cup has been priced out of the range of the average supporter. But how will this affect the atmosphere inside the stadia? Indian ex-pats who turned out to greet the England team have been accused on social media of being ‘fake fans’ in the pay of Qatari organisers to boost numbers and make the tournament look more credible to a worldwide television audience.
But whether that’s true or not – and we do already know that England and Wales fans, along with supporters from 30 other nations, have signed a code of conduct that requires them to deliver positive messages about being in Qatar – it does mean that the atmosphere around all games will likely be very different to normal. And perhaps that’s appropriate. This is already a World Cup over-brimming with weirdness, so perhaps it’s right that it should also sound and look like no other tournament.
Because with these high prices, and regardless of any other considerations, it does feel as though the World Cup finals might have fallen from the financial reach of the majority of fans worldwide. FIFA won’t necessarily regard that as a problem. So long as they can get a few thousand who are wealthy or devoted enough to shell out the cost of a small family car to travel to these tournaments, that’s all that really matters to them.
Coupled with the treatment of migrant workers over a period of years, it’s broadly reflective of a world in which inequalities are continuing to deepen with no apparent political will to change that state of affairs. And at the end of 2022, perhaps this is entirely appropriate.