The World Cup of 2018 is almost a week old with the festival of football having captured the globe’s imagination with some absolutely fantastic moments that will live long in the memory. However, not everyone has been encapsulated with a worrying trend of empty seats at multiple World Cup venues emerging.
FIFA have confirmed they will investigate the issue as several matches have been plagued by hundreds of empty seats, often in view of the television camera whilst the action is being played.
Uruguay’s clash with Egypt on Friday was the first match which saw a noticeable number of gaps in the supporters, although this was initially put down to the kick-off time (3:00pm UTC+2) and the low quality of teams involved.
Unfortunately subsequent matches followed a similar pattern with the exception of Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain on Friday evening with locals seemingly more willing to travel to catch a glimpse of Cristiano Ronaldo.
It wasn’t until Brazil’s opening match with Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday evening that world football’s governing body realised there was a serious problem. Despite every single ticket for the match having been initially sold, the number of empty seats was alarming for a match involving one of the most popular international teams.
Further investigations suggested most matches have been recorded as sell-outs, yet not every sold ticket has been used on the day. There may be many different reasons why this occurs, although people are initially suggesting that the re-sale market could be to blame. This wouldn’t necessarily explain why the tickets went used though.
Other concerns include local companies and businesses having bought large numbers of tickets in advance, not knowing which teams will be playing in which matches, and haven’t been able to find enough people to fill them.
England are notoriously well supported at international tournaments and there are many travelling fans already stationed in Russia in the hope Gareth Southgate will be able to become the first England manager since Sven-Goran Eriksson to win a knockout match.
Harry Kane’s brace handed the Three Lions a thoroughly deserved 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday evening as Southgate’s charges got their campaign off to the best possible start. Yet, there were more seats unfilled with it confirmed prior to kick-off that not every single ticket in the ground had been sold. For a World Cup in a country where the sport is incredibly popular this is both strange and unfortunate in equal measure. Stadiums have been constructed with cautious capacities, but that hasn’t stopped Russia from the embarrassment of not being able to fill their mostly modest arenas.
The atmosphere at the tournament hasn’t necessarily dipped as a result, most matches have been noisy affairs depending on the teams involved; Mexico and Colombia are known for their rousing support. There has also been the sense that the tournament has seen fans across the board behave themselves with the only incident of note coming when a taxi driver reportedly fell asleep at the wheel before driving into a group of supporters placed on the pavement.
This is a dramatic improvement on the scenes in France two years ago, although the issue regarding unfilled seats will be looked at closely by FIFA.
FIFA’s initial response has hardly filled anyone with confidence as they noted that the 5000 empty seats in the Uruguay-Egypt match were down to people simply not turning up. “We can confirm that the matter related to the match in Ekaterinburg was mainly linked to no-shows from all constituent groups,” a FIFA spokesperson explained in a released statement.
It’s important to make clear that this isn’t a solely Russian problem; the 2014 World Cup began in similar circumstances with there a number of empty seats at most of the opening matches. That tournament was played amidst a backdrop of sizeable public unrest as many felt the nation wasn’t in a strong enough economic position to welcome the World Cups. The constructed stadiums in Brazil were also much larger generally with the 72,500 capacity Arena Brasilia seeing thousands of empty seats when Switzerland faced Ecuador in their opening match.
South Africa saw something similar in 2010, although it was determined that infrastructural problems, mainly transport facilities, had prevented people from reaching the stadiums in time for kick off.
The distribution of tickets has been a source of controversy since 2010 with a larger number being distributed to both sponsors and national football associations than ever before. The system is a far cry from how fans got hold of tickets for international tournaments in the 1980s and 1990s.
FIFA will likely release a full statement on this in due course, however they have come under incredible criticism on social media with the tournament matches clearly not being played in front of full stadiums. 2014 saw the director of FIFA’s ticketing partner, Ray Whelan, arrested on suspicion of illegal sales before he was declared not guilty of any wrongdoing.
The fact that this problem has carried on into the 2018 tournament is worrying and it’s certainly one which FIFA and the local authorities will need to address as the competition progresses.