Why are there still empty seats at ‘sold out’ World Cup matches? – The Athletic

‘John Williams’ says he has tickets going spare for England’s World Cup quarter-final clash with France on Saturday, in a tweet followed by a string of World Cup-related hashtags designed to find ticket-hungry punters.

“Are you interested in buying any?” he asks when The Athletic gets in touch.

But the chat quickly goes quiet when it is pointed out that his profile picture — a white man with grey hair and glasses wearing a suit — appears to be someone else entirely. A reverse image search reveals it is a photo of an American immigration lawyer, who is very much not named John Williams.

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The account is an apparent scammer attempting to profit from those caught up in the excitement as the World Cup reaches fever pitch. After the conversation with The Athletic, ‘John’ deletes and reposts a similar message.

Social-media ticket scams are an increasing problem in football, and are not something specific to this tournament.

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But this is just the tip of the iceberg as fans around the world desperately hunt for tickets for what could be some of the biggest moments in their country’s footballing history.


Lucas Heredia is an Argentina fan who travelled to this World Cup to support his country, making up one of the largest travelling contingents in Qatar despite the vast distance and cost involved in travelling from South America to the Middle East.

In the initial draw, he failed to get tickets to see Argentina play but snapped up some for Iran’s games despite having no connection to that nation. This made him eligible for a ‘Hayya’ card — effectively a Qatari visa given to all ticket-holders required to enter the country during the World Cup.

Now the tournament is reaching its closing stages, the Qatari government has relaxed these requirements, meaning residents of neighbouring countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have large expatriate communities of nations competing in the final stages, do not need a Hayya to enter Qatar.

Heredia got a ‘TST7’ ticket for Iran, meaning seven tickets — all three of their group games plus the route to the final no matter who gets there. As Iran were knocked out at the group stage, the allocation shifted to England, who won the group Iran were in, meaning he has tickets for England’s path to the final. Even if England get knocked out and Argentina make the final, he will be there on his official ticket.

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A lot of tickets were sold long before the tournament kicked off but lots are still being bought and sold — some on official platforms, some elsewhere.

Earlier in the tournament, The Athletic revealed how no tickets whatsoever were available for group-stage matches at a time when the tournament was being plagued by accusations of seats going empty.

FIFA’s official portal now states 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 game being sold out, as new tickets can come up when people list them for resale. Football’s organising body also points out that “no-shows” are a problem at any major event and not just in Qatar.

But Heredia is annoyed about it and blames locals for snapping up tickets for matches and then not attending.

Getting tickets for Argentina matches has been a struggle for him but he has somehow managed it, with a lot of effort.

He told The Athletic he sourced tickets through friends and acquaintances, as well as Facebook and WhatsApp groups that have sprung up to help Argentinians in Doha find a way to see Lionel Messi and company.

Though he has had a great time watching his country, he is critical of the way the ticketing system has worked.

“A country like Argentina or Morocco, which brought a large audience to the World Cup, should have been given the possibility that all those who entered Qatar have at least one official ticket,” he suggests.

One of the tricky things for organisers has been the vast disparity in demand between some countries, such as Argentina, Mexico and Morocco, who have brought lots of supporters to the tournament and others where far fewer have travelled.


Mohamed Salad is a Somali sports journalist who has attended several games in a personal rather than professional capacity, buying tickets on FIFA’s official resale platform.

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There is a five per cent fee for buyers and sellers, he says, adding that the platform works reasonably well.

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

Aside from the online portal, he says there has been a vibrant secondary ticketing trade outside the main ticket office, the Doha Exhibition & Convention Center (DECC).

“You can go in the morning and try your luck,” he says. “But it’s all been done online for the most part.”

He also suggests that a reason for empty seats has been tickets given to locals who have then simply not shown up and also not resold the ticket.

These empty seats tend to be at the “sides” of the stadiums, allocated to fans who get tickets outside the country-specific routes, who may be neutral.

“From a fan perspective, tickets appear sold out on our end,” says Salad. “The fan sections, almost always behind the goal, are always full.”

One notable group of fans were the Qatari “ultras”, bedecked in maroon and very noisy for their country’s brief, dismal showing at the World Cup.

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


But far from these official routes is another way in which tickets are bought and sold, this time for a lot more than face value, especially as each game means more as the tournament reaches its business end.

Tickets for supposedly sold-out matches are popping up on resale sites such as Ticombo for way above face value.

Some media outlets have reported that tickets for the England vs France quarter-final on Saturday have sold for £5,000 or even £10,000.

However, these examples appear to be outliers.

Browsing on Thursday, there are pairs of tickets available in the £400-800 range — still very expensive and above face value, but not quite as extreme as some headlines suggest.

Where there is a will — and a fat wallet — there is generally a way.

But the way the ticket situation has panned out raises real concerns about something nobody, least of all FIFA or the tournament’s Qatari organisers, want to see — empty seats in the World Cup’s final stages.

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