Is someone seriously tinkering with crowd figures, as host Qatar appears not to be able to account for thousands of fans who appear to be missing from its official crowd numbers at the World Cup?
Can this really happen at the world’s biggest once-in-four-years football fiesta? Sincerely, there have been so many varying theories, rumours or otherwise, and differing photos taken from the opening ceremony and even Tuesday’s matches appear to throw fuel on the fire.
Let’s look definitely at the first four matches played so far. The official crowds for all matches were listed to be well above the official capacity for each of the venues. Even photos taken of grandstands during the middle of the matches have also shown thousands of missing fans.
These are the official crowds announced for the four matches: (1) Qatar vs Ecuador – 67,372; the official capacity of Al Bayt Stadium is 60,000. (2) England vs Iran – 45,334; the official capacity of Khalifa International Stadium is 40,000. (3) Netherlands vs Senegal – 41,721; the official capacity of Al Thumama Stadium is 40,000. (4) USA vs Wales – 43,418; the official capacity of Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium is 40,000.
If you work up the total figures, it shows a staggering number of 17,845 have somehow squeezed into stadiums they are not supposed to fit inside. No explanation has been given for the discrepancies. Can this really happen, you wonder?
More eye-catching were photos taken from the Netherlands’ 2-0 win over Senegal with the Netherlands celebrating a late goal with entire sections of the stadium appearing vacant.
The global media have been caught unawares and the British newspaper, The Sun, reported the announcement that 41,721 spectators had attended the game. And this had fans even chuckling on social media.
It comes after the embarrassing sight of Qatari fans walking out during the second half of the team’s loss to Ecuador, leaving sections of the grandstands looking grim.
FIFA doesn’t want to be left red-faced in explaining. But has given an indication of the crowd discrepancies through British journalist Rachel Burden. Burden tweeted FIFA had claimed to her “capacity figure is the reference capacity that meets the FIFA requirements. The final capacity during event mode is higher (hence the mismatch).”
You wonder if you can seriously believe this.
Qatar became the first host nation to lose its World Cup opener in the 92-year history of the tournament. It has only given air to the previous speculation that the wealthy state has paid “fake fans” to make public displays of support for various national teams.
Video captured in Qatar in the days leading up to the opening ceremony showed groups of so-called supporters gathering in public to cheer on their team. Cynical commentators have suggested the displays were not exactly convincing.
For the record, the tournament has stated more than one million fans from around the globe will be in Qatar during the tournament. But at least some of those fans have been having a tough time, with accommodation nightmares and alcohol bans.
Austrian manager and former Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick reportedly told a journalist: “You don’t need to buy fans for anyone to support you, they are automatically there already.”
The big suspicious question: Is anyone playing with crowd figures just to deliberately beef up the numbers? Otherwise, how can thousands of fans appear to be missing from its official crowd numbers at this World Cup?
Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor