Singapore football fans pounce on tickets for Qatar World Cup
Even with the pandemic, the allure of the World Cup remains strong for fans here in Singapore.
World governing body Fifa on Wednesday (Jan 19) opened their applications for tickets to games at the Nov 21-Dec 18 World Cup in Qatar. Within hours of the first sales period opening at 6pm, football fans here were among those who registered their interest.
Among them was Mohamed Alfian, who applied for tickets to one semi-final and the final. The accountant has never been to a World Cup but felt compelled to this time and wanted to "just try my luck".
"This is the first time I will be able to go watch the World Cup in Asia," said the 33-year-old Singaporean.
"The only other time it was (on the continent in Japan and South Korea in 2002), I was still in school. Who knows? This may be a once in a lifetime chance to catch it here in Asia."
British football fan James Walton is hoping to travel to a third consecutive World Cup, having been to Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018.
Walton, who is the sports business group leader for Deloitte South-east Asia, had applied for eight games in Qatar - four in the Round of 16, two in the quarter-finals and both semi-finals.
With teams, groups and detailed fixtures not finalised, applying at this early stage means fans do not know who they will end up watching. But this matters little to Walton.
He said: "For me, it's all about the football and the atmosphere. Applying at this (early) stage means you also stand a good chance… for Russia, for example, five of my seven applications were successful.
"Many other fans (around the world) wait to find out when their team is playing but this will only be in the later rounds of balloting."
Both he and Alfian have few qualms about travelling to the Middle East even amid the pandemic.
Calling himself an "eternal optimist", Walton added: "We are heading in the direction of dealing with it as endemic, and with the World Cup being a year out, you've got to take your chances… Anything can happen between now and then.
"And after my experiences in Brazil and Russia, the World Cup became something that I would try to always go for if I could."
Like Walton, Alfian believes the world is adapting to coping with the Covid-19 virus and said he feels secure travelling with global vaccination numbers increasing.
While Fifa did not say how many fans would be allowed into stadiums for the first World Cup in an Arab country, individual match tickets were on offer for as little as US$69 (S$93) for international fans - about one-third less than in Russia - but a ticket for the final could cost up to US$1,607.
The first sales period ends on Feb 8, after which tickets will be allocated. In cases where the number of tickets applied for exceeds availability, tickets will be allocated by a random selection draw.
Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their bids by March 8, along with the steps to follow and the deadline by which to pay for allocated tickets.
Singaporean fan Dmitry, who only wanted to be known by his first name, said he had considered applying for tickets but ultimately decided against it because he did not want to be away from his young child.
He had attended his first World Cup in Russia - where he was born - and said purchasing tickets for him and his wife then was a breeze, even if he did so as a foreigner having become a Singapore citizen in 2007.
He paid US$245 for each Category One ticket for two round of 16 games, and US$480 for each Category Two ticket for the England-Croatia semi-final.
Dmitry, who works in business development, encouraged fans who are considering travelling to Qatar to take the plunge.
"100 per cent," he said, when asked if he would recommend someone going.
"You can't imagine the atmosphere, where you have everyone from so many places in one country or city. It's like one big festival and it's just so absorbing… Hopefully the pandemic will not dampen that experience for those who are in Qatar."
Fifa on Wednesday also announced reduced prices for Qatari residents and migrant labourers - whose treatment has been a source of controversy for organisers - and they will be able to attend games for as little as US$11.