Why are there still seats available in “sold out” World Cup games?

‘John Williams’ says he has spare tickets for England’s World Cup quarter-final match against France on Saturday, in a tweet followed by a series of World Cup-related hashtags designed to find ticket-hungry players.

“Are you interested in buying some?” he asks when the athlete makes contact.

But the chat quickly falls silent when it’s pointed out that his profile picture — a white man with gray hair and glasses in a suit — appears to be someone else entirely. A reverse image search reveals that this is a photo of an American immigration attorney, not at all named John Williams.

The account is an apparent scammer trying to profit from those caught up in the excitement as the World Cup reaches boiling point. After talking to the athlete,’John’ deletes and reposts a similar message.

Ticket fraud on social media is a growing problem in football and not specific to this tournament.

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But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as fans around the world are desperate for tickets to some of the greatest moments in their country’s football history.

Lucas Heredia is an Argentina fan who traveled to Qatar to support his country and represents one of the largest travel contingents in Qatar despite the long distance and expense involved in traveling from South America to the Middle East.

He didn’t get tickets to Argentina in the first draw, but snagged some for Iran’s games despite having no connection with the country. This entitles him to a ‘Hayya’ card, effectively a Qatari visa issued to all ticket holders who need to enter the country during the World Cup.

Now that the tournament is nearing its final stages, the Qatar government has relaxed these requirements, meaning residents of neighboring countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where large foreign communities of nations compete in the final stages, do not need Hayya, to participate Qatar.

Heredia got a “TST7” ticket for Iran, so seven tickets, all three group games plus the way to the final, no matter who gets there. When Iran were eliminated in the group stage, the allocation switched to England, who won Group B, meaning he has tickets to England’s road to the final. Even if England are eliminated and Argentina reach the final, he will be there with his official ticket.

Many tickets were sold well before the tournament started, but many tickets are still being bought and sold – some on official platforms, some elsewhere.

At the beginning of the tournament the athlete revealed that no tickets for group stage games were available at all as the tournament was plagued by allegations of empty seats.

The official portal of FIFA now states that there are no tickets available for the upcoming games.

FIFA says that the fact that no tickets are listed on the platform is not the same as the sold-out match, as new tickets may appear as people put them up for resale. The Football Association also points out that “no-shows” are a problem at all major events, not just in Qatar.

But Heredia is upset about this, accusing locals of snagging tickets and not showing up.

Getting tickets to Argentina games was a struggle for him but he somehow managed, with a lot of effort.

He said the athlete he got tickets through friends and acquaintances, as well as Facebook and WhatsApp groups created to help the Argentines in Doha find a way to see Lionel Messi and the rest of the team.

Although he had a great time watching his country, he criticizes the way the ticketing system works.

“A country like Argentina or Morocco, which brought a large audience to the World Cup, should have been given the opportunity for everyone entering Qatar to have at least 1 official ticket,” he suggests.

One of the tricky things for the organizers was the huge discrepancy in demand between some countries like Argentina, Mexico and Morocco and others where far fewer traveled.

Mohamed Salad is a Somali sports journalist who has attended several matches privately rather than professionally, buying tickets on FIFA’s official resale platform.

There’s a 5 percent fee for both buyers and sellers, he says, adding that the platform works quite well.

“You can get tickets until kick-off,” he says. “Aside from long waits, which is understandable, it’s pretty straightforward.”

Aside from the online portal, he says there has been brisk secondary ticket sales outside of the main ticket office, the Doha Exhibition & Convention Center (DECC).

“You can go there in the morning and try your luck,” he says. “But that was mostly done online.”

He also suggests that one reason for empty seats was tickets to locals who simply didn’t show up and didn’t resell the tickets.

These empty seats are typically located at the “sides” of stadiums and are assigned to fans who receive tickets outside of country-specific routes, which may be neutral.

“From a fan point of view, the tickets seem to be sold out here,” says Salad. “The fan departments, almost always behind the goal, are always full.”

A notable group of fans were the ‘Ultras’ from Qatar, decked out in maroon and very loud about their country’s dismal showing at the World Cup.

A New York Times investigation revealed that many of these fans were actually from Lebanon and had been flown in for the occasion to add some atmosphere.

But far removed from these official routes, there is another way tickets are bought and sold, this time for much more than face value, especially as each game means more as the tournament reaches its commercial end.

Tickets for supposedly sold-out games are turning up on resale sites like Ticombo for well over face value.

Some media outlets have reported that England v France tickets have sold for £5,000 or even £10,000.

However, these examples appear to be outliers. Tickets ranging from £400 to £800 are available for Thursday’s browse – very expensive and over face value, but not quite as extreme as some headlines suggest.

Where there is a will – and a big wallet – there is generally a way.

But the way the ticket situation has unfolded raises serious concerns about something no one wants to see, least of all FIFA or the Qatari organizers of the tournament – empty seats in the final stages of the World Cup.

(Top Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)

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