FIFA World Cup: Business, Fun, and Political Victory for Arab world

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DUBAI – Now that the FIFA World Cup has reached its final phase, four teams are ready to go ahead for the ultimate gory. From here on, it becomes important to see how to evaluate the FIFA World Cup event held in an Arab country for the first time. Amid all the allegations and criticisms, should this event be considered a success or has it become a fight for money and prestige?

Supporters of the teams are the lifeblood of the football world cup. With Qatar estimating that 1.5 million foreign visitors will travel for the event, which runs until December 18, 2.89 million tickets have been sold and the number of overseas supporters after the first round has crossed almost 1 million.

In a bid to attract more football fans and make entry easier, Qatar has changed its entry rules for ticketless visitors from December 2. For this edition, Qatar has done something which has probably never been done before by any host country.

Normally, a fan needs a visa to visit the host country to watch his/her team play in the World Cup. But this time Qatar is not issuing any visa to anyone coming during the tournament. Hayya card booking is enough for entry into Qatar.

Business for Arab World

The Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) announced that the first week of the FIFA World Cup recorded more than 7,000 flights, a historic event for a small country like Qatar.

Since the start of the tournament, there has been a significant increase in air traffic at Hamad and Doha international airports. The QCAA said in a statement that several Gulf carriers have begun operating shuttle flights to Qatar.

In addition, airlines from Arab countries and the rest of the world are increasing their services to Doha to provide integrated air transportation for the fans.

The QACC confirmed that several international airlines, including Lufthansa, Air France, Finnair and KLM, in addition to airlines from South America and Africa, have started operating charter flights to Qatar, leading to an increase in operations with the rest of the world.

Needless to say, the host country leaves no stone unturned to make the event a massive success, always eager to outdo the previous editions.

FIFA has told the member federations that it has generated record revenues of $7.5 billion in four-year commercial deals linked to the World Cup in Qatar. This is $1 billion more than the previous business cycle associated with the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Additional income was raised from commercial deals with the World Cup host country. Qatar Energy joined as a top-level sponsor and new third-level sponsors include Qatari bank QNB and telecom firm Ooredoo.

FIFA is also helping the business of neighboring countries, like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman. In particular, UAE is the most beneficial country after the Qatar during the World Cup. Hotels across the UAE have reported a surge in bookings due to the World Cup, particularly in the F&B sector, with live screening of matches.

Dubai is one of the six venues selected to hold the FIFA Fan Festival during the World Cup in Qatar. Other cities include London, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Seoul.

Dubai hotels, restaurants and bars are fully booked every day to watch the matches.

Dubai’s DWC Airport has recorded a surge in traffic during the World Cup. A total of 120 match day shuttle flights are flying in and out of DWC daily.

Dubai airport is making every effort to provide a smooth and seamless experience at DWC for match-goers traveling to Qatar. More than 60 check-in counters, 21 boarding gates, 60 passport control counters (departures and arrivals), 10 smart gates, and four baggage belts at arrivals will cater to the projected increase in demand throughout the period.

Football fans believe that living in Dubai is “less risky and more fun” than in Qatar, where budget accommodation, and the availability of alcohol make the FIFA World Cup more exciting. Nearly 1 million football fans have already planned to spend time in Dubai on their way to or from Qatar.

Dubai, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, is welcoming an estimated 1 million additional visitors during the World Cup, according to the Dubai Sports Council. Statistics estimate that Dubai has about 140,000 hotel rooms while Qatar has 45,000. Private jet and yacht charter operators have registered an unprecedented surge in bookings during the World Cup.

This is made possible by “match day air shuttles” operated by Qatar Airlines and Dubai-based low-cost carrier FlyDubai — same-day round-trip flights from Dubai or nearby Oman to passengers attending a match in Qatar.

Dubai’s revenue will not just come from hotel stays and restaurants. Visitors to the Emirates can rent superyachts running for thousands of dollars per night to watch the matches while sailing through the Persian Gulf.

Private charter yacht companies are offering its most luxurious nautical experience for $20,000 per night on superyachts. Yacht bookings have wirnessed almost 300 per cent increase in November and December, mainly due to the World Cup.

Another sector that has seen a boom during the World Cup in Dubai is private jet charter companies. A full private jet service priced at AED 240,000 ($65,340) for up to 10 passengers, or AED 29,000 ($7,895) per seat.

Along with Dubai, neighbouring Oman has also registered a 93 per cent increase in international arrivals. ForwardKeys, a leading travel data and analytics organisation, released its data on airline ticket reservations for November and December. The report states that Oman has registered a significant increase in performance as compared to other tourist destinations.

According to the report, Oman is expecting an increase of more than 93 per cent in international arrivals from European countries, as well as more than 156 per cent growth from regional markets.

The report also pointed out that the World Cup would increase the number of tourists coming to Oman from Arab countries by 196 per cent, and that the UAE would be the largest source of tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council countries for Oman.

Political victory for Arab world

Global sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup are, in addition to sport, also about tourism, politics and economic clout. The opening ceremony of the World Cup was attended by Prince Salman of Saudi and Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Everyone saw that the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had put the Saudi Arabian flag around his neck during the match of Saudi Arabia. UAE President Sheikh Mohamed visited Qatar during the World Cup and congratulated its people on a successful hosting of the World Cup.

The UAE President accepted an invitation from Sheikh Tamim, Emir of Qatar. Sheikh Mohamed said he was pleased to discuss relations and ways to strengthen them. The UAE leader congratulated Qatar on its hosting of the World Cup.

The visit will be seen as a sign of further mending of relations following the Al Ula agreement in the Saudi desert last year. That deal, to reset ties with Qatar, followed a four-year impasse between the Gulf states and Qatar over Doha’s support for extremist groups.

This is an important event for the Gulf countries. When the European media was attacking Qatar on the issue of human rights, the coming together of the heads of state of Arab countries indicated the future from the point of view of soft power on the world map.

This has not been the case of success having many fathers. The region has collectively owned up to failures, too, and with grace. It is also not as if all the Gulf, Middle East, and North African teams have made giant strides in the competition.

Most of them have flattered to deceive, and some, like Morocco, have done the region proud. The way Morocco players expressed solidarity with Palestine flags on the ground shows the public sentiments.

While Qatar’s football team failed to deliver on the pitch, the country has taken pride and invested resources in organising the event, while its neighbours have rejoiced and basked in the reflected glory.

This football carnival has been more than just an opportunity for Qatar’s neighbours to dash in on special flights to watch their favourite stars in action. They have also expressed solidarity with Qatar while it faced a barrage of attacks over its organisational abilities.

A lot has been written in European media about alcohol policy and LGBT rights, but the government of Qatar has proved with this event that anything is possible if there is will and money. Even after 60 matches, there is no ruckus anywhere, no incident of fight between supporters, no incident of any kind of theft or accident.

British daily The Times quoted Ellie Milson, a 19-year-old sports activist who runs the #HerGameToo campaign to make sports around the world feel safer for women, as saying, “When I was going to Qatar, I took my father with me as a guardian because I did not know what kind of country Qatar is. What I have experienced after coming here is going to be a big shock to our system. If I show my body, will I be arrested or harassed… but I did not see any kind of misbehaviour, neither drunken people, nor harassment of girls, nor any racist comment. Haven’t seen it because I have had a very bad experience in Britain, there is no unsafe environment either in the playground or outside, it is beyond my imagination, how Qatar government has controlled this. I want to be as beautiful as this atmosphere should be the same in Britain.”

Apart from Dubai, no other Arab country was exposed to this size of event and visitors from all over the world. There was a hesitation and apprehension among the residence of Qatar, about the huge number of visitors in their country.

Unnikrishnan, who lives in Doha and is an engineer by profession, said, “I have been working here for 10 years. Before the start of the tournament, we were a little worried about the crowd, but things are so organised that it doesn’t seem like one million football fans are walking around the country.”

Amber Lounge, the world’s most exclusive VIP lifestyle events and hospitality business centre that follows the most prestigious sporting and high-profile social events around the globe, has opened its pop-up party centre in Doha, alongside the World Cup.

Talking to IANS, Jeannette Tan, Group Managing Director of Amber Lounge, said, “We’ve got performance artistes flying in, and it’s not just DJs. We also have different DJ talents, three Grammy award winners, namely, Lil Jon, Jazzy Jeff and Basement Jaxx. They’re performing on different nights. Every night, we have a different theme and a different feel. It’s not going to be the same.”

About the difficulties due to restrictions on dress code, Tan said, “We are taking the culture of Qatar into consideration. However, it is up to the people. We don’t have any gender restrictions. We will keep it open and as long as we are in keeping with the local regulations and laws, we shouldn’t have a problem.

“It’s such an impressive city. The infrastructure is so modern, and the people are so friendly and warm. It’s just incredible to see how the city has been transformed in anticipation of this event.” -IANS

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