The most avidly followed sports event on earth, the FIFA World Cup, returns this fall — another chance to find out if what’s often been said about soccer is true: That 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and the Germans always win.
At the last World Cup, in 2018, the Germans didn’t win. The French did, and they’ll be back for this year’s tournament in Qatar, along with their young superstar Kylian Mbappé. So will Argentina’s incomparable Leo Messi and Portugal’s icon Cristiano Ronaldo in what could be their World Cup swan songs. A new star is sure to rise into the footballing firmament this year — will it be Canada’s Alphonso Davies, born to Liberian parents in a Ghanaian refugee camp and raised in Alberta, now shining for Bayern Munich? And how will the Americans do after failing to qualify for the 2018 tournament?
These are some of the many reasons for fans to head to the 64 matches of the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar, where the desert heat has pushed the schedule back from its customary summertime window to Nov. 21 to Dec. 18.
For those planning to attend, the time to get tickets and a place to stay is now. But there are also some compelling reasons not to attend. Below, a primer on Qatar 2022: where to go, how to go and, crucially, should you even go at all.
Human rights concerns have clouded this year’s World Cup.
Concerns arose soon after Qatar was named host in 2010. As the tiny Persian Gulf nation rushed to build seven new soccer stadiums, an airport, transit system, hotels, apartments and other infrastructure, allegations quickly followed that many of the country’s 2 million migrant workers were being forced to endure deplorably dangerous conditions.
The human rights organization Amnesty International detailed “rampant” exploitation and abuse, with reports of migrant laborers being unpaid and working excessive hours, often in oppressive heat. The country responded to the scrutiny by introducing labor reforms in recent years, and tournament organizers say that they have improved conditions for workers.
The country’s treatment of L.G.B.T.Q. people has also sparked criticism. Qatar has said it will welcome L.G.B.T.Q. fans at the tournament, but the country’s laws make male homosexuality illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison. Qatar does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, and demonstrating for gay rights is prohibited. Even while insisting that L.G.B.T.Q visitors would be accepted, a senior Qatari security official, Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari, said this month that rainbow flags might be confiscated to “protect” fans.
Concerns over Qatar’s human rights record have spurred some of soccer’s leading figures to speak out. Lise Klaveness, the president of Norway’s soccer federation, scolded FIFA for allowing Qatar to host the tournament in a speech this month, calling it “unacceptable.” Gareth Southgate, the manager of England, called for assurances for the safety of traveling fans. “It would be horrible to think some of our fans feel they can’t go because they feel threatened or they’re worried about their safety,” he said.
Gwilym Hookway Morgan, the communications director for the Qatari organizers, said in an email that Qatar has hosted other sporting events since it was awarded the rights to the World Cup without incident. “Everyone will be welcome to Qatar in 2022,” he wrote. “FIFA and Qatar are committed to delivering a discrimination free tournament that is welcoming to all.”
A Guide to the 2022 World Cup
The 32-team tournament kicks off in Qatar on Nov. 21.
So, you want to attend. How will this year’s World Cup tournament work?
This year’s World Cup comprises 32 teams, 31 of which have survived the two-year qualifying process. (The 32nd, Qatar, qualified automatically as hosts.) They are placed in eight groups of four teams each, with each team guaranteed at least three matches.
The top 16 advance to the knockout phase — followed by the quarterfinals and semifinals — with the world champion crowned at the grand finale at the 80,000-seat Lusail International Stadium in Lusail, a city just north of Doha, the country’s capital, on Dec. 18.
Qatar is by far the smallest country ever to host the tournament, so in some ways this should be the easiest World Cup to attend. All eight stadiums are within a 35-mile radius of Doha, so instead of needing to hop on planes and trains to follow their team over hundreds or even thousands of miles, fans at Qatar 2022 will hardly have to travel at all. In fact, five of the eight stadiums are accessible via the Doha Metro (shuttle buses will take fans to the outlying stadiums).
Even though the tournament will be played in November and December, it will still be hot, with an average high of 85 degrees at the start of the tournament and 75 by the end. But games will kick off in the late afternoon and evening, and all the stadiums (only one has a retractable roof) will be air-conditioned, using solar-powered ventilation and cooling systems designed to keep spectators comfortable.
How do you get tickets?
You can enter the ticket lottery until April 28 at 5 a.m., E.D.T. After that, FIFA will conduct a random selection draw, with successful applicants being notified starting May 31. You can apply for tickets to individual matches, or all matches a particular team will play. There is also a way to reserve provisional tickets if your team advances to the knockout phase.
Prices range from $70 to $220 for individual tickets to group matches and escalate through the knockout phase. Tickets for the championship final will cost from $600 to $1,600.
What about traveling to Qatar?
If you succeed in getting tickets, the next thing to do is get a Hayya Card — a mandatory all-purpose identification card for the World Cup visitor. The Hayya Card (Hayya means “let’s go”) not only acts as an entry visa to Qatar but it must be presented — in addition to your ticket — to get into the stadium on match days.
Several airlines fly from New York to Doha, including American, Finnair, Turkish and Royal Jordanian. Qatar Airways offers more than 100 weekly flights from 12 cities in the United States.
Qatar Airways also offers all-inclusive packages that come with match tickets, flights and accommodations. One package featuring tickets to all the U.S. matches (three group games plus a round-of-16 game, if the United States advances) is advertised from $6,950 per person. Other packages range from $4,050 to $7,300, for the one that includes tickets to the championship final.
As for the country’s coronavirus rules, Qatar currently requires adult visitors to show either proof of vaccination or a certificate of recovery to avoid quarantine, as well as negative results from a test taken within 48 hours of departure. Current in-country regulations require masking on public transport and in stadiums, stores and hotels. Proof of vaccination is required to enter many buildings, and travelers are required to have Ehteraz, a Covid-19 notification app, on their phones.
The Qatar 2022 website has an accommodations portal that is the best place to start your search for lodgings. The website features listings at hotels, apartments and villas or aboard two large cruise ships docked at Doha for the duration of the tournament. There is also an option to stay at “fan villages,” which the site describes as “a variety of casual camping and cabin-style accommodation for the avid fan,” accompanied by a photo of a tent amid vast sand dunes. “More information coming soon,” says the caption.
A recent search on the site for hotel rooms showed nothing available, a disappointment for those who’d fancy a room at the Four Seasons Doha. But even the lowly three-star listings showed no vacancies.
However, some apartments and villas were available. On the low end was an apartment in Al-Wakrah, a suburb of Doha, for $84 a night. On the high end, a villa in Doha was going for $920 a night.
Cabins aboard the MSC Poesia, moored at Doha port, start at $179 on the website; aboard the MSC World Europa they’re $347.
Airbnb had some bookings in Qatar for the World Cup, tending to consist of tents going for $100 a night or apartments starting at $500 a night. Some fans may have to resort to staying in the United Arab Emirates at Abu Dhabi, 330 miles from Doha, or Dubai, 390 miles away, and take a car, bus or plane to the game.
Any other tips for staying in Qatar?
Fans attending the World Cup should be mindful that while the country is making some allowances for the coming influx of tourists, Qatar is a conservative Muslim country and visitors should be aware of its laws and customs.
For instance, it is illegal to drink in public. During the World Cup, alcohol will be available in designated areas, like hotels and special “fan zones,” but public intoxication can carry a six-month jail sentence.
“Visitors (men as well as women) are expected to show respect for local culture by avoiding excessively revealing clothing in public,” the official Visit Qatar website advises. “It is generally recommended for men and women to ensure their shoulders and knees are covered.”
Public displays of affection between men and women are “frowned upon,” according to Visit Qatar.
Even if you are a super fan of soccer with the funds to travel, deciding whether to go to this year’s World Cup could be fraught. Remember, you can always wait for 2026, when the World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
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Jeff Z. Klein
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