Football fans have a reputation of going to extreme lengths to support their teams. But, even by their standards, planning travel for this year’s World Cup in Qatar has turned out to be an unprecedented adventure.
Flight rates that are two or three times more than usual, hotel rooms that can run into hundreds of dollars per night, and the prospect of making the UAE their base to make trips to-and-fro between the two countries for matches — what has been projected as the “most accessible” World Cup is turning into a logistical nightmare for fans.
Qatar’s unique appeal as a host nation — all eight stadiums are situated in and around Doha, the capital, within an hour of travel — has contributed to the sale of 1.8 million tickets as of June 29, with the final sales period commencing on July 5. And although India did not come remotely close to qualifying for the November 21-December 18 tournament, the country is among the top-10 buyers of tickets.
“In 2018, Moscow had just two stadiums and still, there were nights when the entire city was sold out,” says Akarsh Sharma, a business executive from Gurgaon who had travelled to Russia to watch the World Cup. “Here, we are talking about a country smaller than Delhi-NCR that will host the entire tournament.”
Sharma spent Rs 1.3 lakh on a series of tickets which will give him access to seven matches across all rounds, from the group stage to the final. But he is yet to zero down on an accommodation. And he isn’t the only one.
With the skewed demand-supply ratio, combined with the fact that 80 per cent of the total accommodation inventory is being sold via a centralised system operated by the organising committee, finding a place to stay is neither easy nor affordable.
In December, AP news agency reported that the organisers secured a bulk of the rooms for the players and officials of the 32 teams, representatives from world football’s governing body FIFA, the tournament’s sponsors and international media.
That’s left the overseas fans with very limited options. In a statement to The Indian Express, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – in charge of organising the World Cup – said “the host country will deliver up to 1,30,000 rooms, which equates to 3.6 million room nights, for the one million-plus fans expected to travel for the tournament”, and added that “more choices will be made available in due course”.
The rates per night for a hotel or an apartment start at $80 for two people and go up to thousands of dollars, but with the country falling short of rooms, the organisers have been forced to look at creative solutions.
So, the luxury cruise liners docked at the bay have been converted into hotels, with cabins for up to $800 per night. And tents, starting at a little over $200 per night, have been pitched in the deserts as camping options.
All bookings made via the official platform require a minimum of two nights’ stay. Rooms via popular hotel aggregators are already sold out and homestay options, via websites like Airbnb, cost approximately Rs 1.73 lakh per night on average.
The other option, of staying with a relative or friend who lives in Qatar, is not hassle-free either. The person living in Qatar will have to register with the organisers and share details of their property agreements before allowing guests during the World Cup.
Fans, consequently, have had to take drastic measures. Mohit Daga, who runs an umbrella manufacturing business in Kolkata, says he and his friends plan to stay in Dubai and make six-hour road trips to Doha for matches. That, however, depends on visa and other requirements. “That is a more convenient option and also more affordable, given the sharp surge in flight rates,” says the 27-year-old Argentina supporter.
A cursory look online at the flight rates during the World Cup shows that a round-trip from Delhi or Kolkata to Doha will cost up to Rs 1 lakh – nearly three times more than normal rates.
The inflated hotel and airline rates are just one part of the budget. As Arnab Chatterjee, a software consultant based in Dallas, USA, experienced in Russia four years ago, the on-ground expenses, too, often leave a hole in the pocket. “The good thing is the internal travel will be minimum, given the proximity between the venues,” says the 39-year-old. “However, as we experienced in Russia, from food to water, everything is slightly more expensive during events like these.”
Chatterjee will first travel from Dallas to Kolkata before proceeding to Doha with his brother and 75-year-old father to watch Brazil in action. He has paid $350 per night for their stay and, combined with air tickets and other expenses, his spending on Qatar 2022 is more than double what he spent in Russia four years ago.
“In Russia, for two people I spent Rs 4.5 lakh,” he says. “This time, I think I’ll end up spending close to Rs 10 lakh overall. Why am I doing it? Because, after watching the World Cup in Russia, my father and I decided to go for all the editions, given that it was such a great experience. Also, we missed watching Brazil in 2018, so we wanted to see them play. I wish the logistics were made easier by giving fans more options, rather than having a centralised system.”
Many fans may feel they’ll be priced out of what is the biggest single-sport event. But the organisers maintain it will remain accessible to all. “Qatar 2022 will indeed be the most accessible FIFA World Cup. All the more so for residents of India. Geographically, this is the closest FIFA World Cup to India — many cities on India’s west coast and near it are within a 3-4 hour flight radius to Doha. And once the fans reach Doha, they don’t have to plan any internal flights due to the compact hosting concept of the World Cup which is played in eight stadiums, the farthest two of which are 75 km apart,” said the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.