Friday, February 4, 2011

Lessons from 2011 AFC Asian Cup: Poor Attendance, Stubborn Police Forces Cast Clouds of Doubt Over Qatar 2022

Screen shot of the low attendance at the match between Kuwait and China at Al-Gharafa Stadium in Doha where only 7,423 fans filled the 25,000 capacity stadium.

Andrew Das made a fascinating assertion in's "Goal Blog" last week: Why couldn't FIFA have waited for the completion of the AFC Asian Cup hosted by, yours truly, Qatar?
Thousands of fans with legitimate tickets for the final between Australia and Japan were trapped outside Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. David Roberts, an Australian living in Doha, told the Sydney Morning Herald that 5,000 to 10,000 fans were abandoned outside the gates left to miss out on what was a thrilling final.
According to the tournament operations director, Jassim al-Rumaihi, members of the Qatar's ruling family were in attendance. Rumaihi explained that warnings and announcements were made telling spectators to arrive to the stadium early. In a statement to the NYTimes blog Rumaihi expressed his apologies.
“We feel sorry for people without a ticket; I hope it will not give a bad impression of the tournament in general,” Rumaihi said. “We were hoping we wouldn’t have something like this happen, but it happened and we will try to solve it. You can’t satisfy everyone.”
Unfortunately, Rumaihi's apology does not satisfy anyone.
The tournament showcased quality football, but sparse attendance at the five stadiums ultimately affected the overall success of the tournament negatively. Khalifa International Stadium, Qatar's largest arena with a capacity of 50,000, averaged an attendance of 29,056 at its matches. The total attendance of the tournament was 401,661. If the tournament had sold out, 875,000 seats would have been filled—473,339 seats were empty at a major international tournament. That figure could be 5,000 less if the royal family's presence hadn't incited mounted police to ward anxious spectators off.
So why couldn't FIFA have waited for the tournament to conclude before the bid announcement was made? Why I believe FIFA's delegation should have waited, the Washington Post's Soccer Insider, Steven Goff, viewed the Asian Cup situation differently.
"Asian Cup has no relevancy -- unlike the World Cup, it's a regional event without global appeal."
In the history of FIFA World Cup bidding, only once has FIFA overturned an original winning bid. In September of 1974 FIFA announced Columbia as hosts for the 1986 tournament, but for economic reasons, Columbia was forced to resign. Just three years before the '86 tournament was Mexico announced as hosts.
Goff was firm regarding Qatar's legitimacy, and does not see FIFA pulling off another "Columbia" '86 snub.
"FIFA won't change the site unless something catastrophic occurs. The vote is final," he said.
Qatar was announced hosts of the 2011 Asian Cup on July 29, 2007 during the 2007 cup in Jakarta. FIFA's regulations state that confederation tournaments (Africa Cup of Nations, Asian Cup, European Championships, Viva World Cup, Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup, and OFC Nations Cup) can be held in January or June/July. FIFA are now in speculation to adjust its regulations regarding the World Cup (see last post).
Realistically, FIFA needed to wait just two more months before their final decision was made. Before the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the 2009 Confederations Cup was seen as the host nation's dress rehearsal. FIFA have already been able to assess Qatar after the conclusion of the Asian Cup last week; Qatar decided to have its dress rehearsal 11 years early.
Several comments from readers of the NYTimes "Goal Blog" brought important and noteworthy views to the discussion. Considering the time until the 2022 World Cup, we must be realistic and aware of the possibility of a shift in Qatar's political structure. At the moment, an autocratic rule gives off an outdated and stale air in the midst the modern political era. By 2022 FIFA could be lead by a Qatari. Who knows?
But, as it stands, the Asian Cup showed the world that Qatar had issues hosting a tournament that is dwarfed by a competition like the World Cup. The World Cup will be bringing in South American and European fans, who, in all honesty, will bring hostility in comparison with an Asian timidity. However, Goff sees only rolling meadows in Qatar's future.
"Qatar has 11 years to prepare. I'm sure it will put on a good show."

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