Qatar’s World Cup chief organizer announced ‘record’ demand on Wednesday with 1.2 million tickets sold, but admitted it was difficult to stop companies taking advantage by raising prices .
Hassan Al-Thawadi, head of the organizing committee for the November-December tournament, said he was working to limit “price gouging” as costs soared for limited accommodation in the Qatari capital.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said there were five million requests for tickets to the final at the 80,000-seat Lusail Stadium, indicating feverish demand for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“I think around 1.2 million tickets have already been purchased,” Al-Thawadi told the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha. “So people are actually buying and people are excited to come there. There’s no question about that.”
Organizing committee officials said there were around 40 million ticket requests across the two online sales phases. Two million tickets will be sold in total, with another million earmarked for world body FIFA and sponsors.
Doha, with a population of around 2.4 million, is bracing for the huge influx of visitors. The 32-team tournament will take place in eight stadiums in and around the capital, which will put significant strain on infrastructure.
Qatar says there will be 130,000 rooms in hotels, apartments, cruise ships and desert camps, where there will be 1,000 tents. He promised shared rooms for as low as $85 a night.
“There will be glamping,” Infantino told the forum, referring to high-end camping. The traditional Bedouin-style tents will have water and electricity, but no air conditioning.
“Housing is not a concern,” he added. “Everything is done so that there is enough housing ready here, and also of course in neighboring countries.”
– ‘Qatar bashing’ –
More than 160 return shuttles a day will bring fans from neighboring countries, easing pressure on accommodation, while capacity has been doubled at Doha’s two international airports.
To limit the number of fans, only people with match tickets will be allowed to enter the small gas-rich country during the World Cup.
But Al-Thawadi admitted it was “difficult” to control accommodation prices, which soar with demand.
“(We want) to avoid price increases,” he said. “Obviously market forces always mean that as long as there is a lot of demand, prices will skyrocket.
“We’re trying to create an environment where the business community benefits, but at the same time it’s affordable and accessible for the fans as well.”
Al-Thawadi has also played down the prospect of protests in Qatar, following constant criticism of his treatment of foreign workers and laws against homosexuality. Demonstrations are rare in Qatar.
“Everyone is welcome. But appreciating where you come from, we have a very rich culture. We ask people to respect our culture,” he said.
Infantino also dismissed concerns that fans could be arrested for minor infractions. Drinking alcohol in public is also a crime in this conservative country.
“Of course people will be arrested if they destroy something if they start fighting in the streets, and we don’t expect that to happen normally at World Cups,” Infantino said.
Questions about rights and freedoms in Qatar have multiplied in the run-up to the World Cup, drawing an increasingly terse response from officials.
The CEO of Accor, the Qatari-owned French hotel chain pledged to provide accommodation services – using thousands of foreign workers – has dismissed criticism of labor rights as ” Qatar bashing”.
“I hear a lot of people doing Qatar-bashing and they seem to enjoy it,” Sébastien Bazin told AFP, adding: “We will do everything we can to keep this Qatar-bashing unfounded.”
He also promised to find post-World Cup jobs for the 13,000 people hired to work with Accor at the tournament.