Desperate fans turn to illegal hawkers in Qatar for World Cup tickets

DOHA, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Ashraf Ali arrived at Stadium 974 six hours before the Argentina-Poland World Cup match and, in desperation, held up a handwritten sign: “We need tickets.”

Someone offered one for $2,000, nine times its face value.

That was too steep for Ali, 30, who traveled to Qatar from Egypt to fulfill a dream to see Argentine star Lionel Messi play. Thirty minutes before kick-off, he managed to nab a ticket for $500 and saw Argentina win 2-0.

Other ticket-free soccer fans are increasingly congregating on the perimeters of crowded stadiums in Doha during the World Cup to haggle with hawkers, quietly pushing match tickets for popular games up to 10 times their value.

They seem undeterred by police patrols, CCTV cameras and laws banning the practice in the Gulf Arab state.

“A black market is taking shape,” a French ticket seller told Reuters, saying sales had earned him enough money to pay for his trip to the finals, plus a bonus.

The man, who declined to be named, said he was accusing “the most dedicated fans” of marking up 1,000% for tickets to highly sought after games with stars such as Messi and Christiano Ronaldo.

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“I (sell for) the games you can finance the most.”

Other experienced hawkers traveled to Doha to cash in on a football event, the first in the Middle East. Reuters spoke to around 20 people who said they had bought or tried to buy black market tickets using social media platforms or outside stadiums.

Fans were also seen exchanging cash for tickets outside the Al Thumama stadium, where crowds of people without tickets wanted to see Morocco in the match they won 2-1 against Canada.

Organizers on Saturday urged ticketless fans not to enter stadiums, following games on Thursday and Friday where large crowds tried to gain entry without tickets.

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A Latin American diplomat in Doha said the “crack down on resellers has been light” with most, if not all, cases being dealt with through fines. The embassy had not come across anyone who had been detained or deported for illegally selling tickets, the diplomat added.

SPECIAL LAW

Qatar passed a special law for the World Cup that gives FIFA exclusive rights to sell the tickets. Under the law, seen by Reuters, hawkers caught face fines of up to 10 times the face value of the tickets being sold illegally.

Football’s governing body is warning it will cancel those identified as having been sold outside its official sales platforms, where fans say tickets have become increasingly scarce as the tournament entering the knockout phase.

“FIFA’s ultimate objectives are to prioritize the safety and security of all fans and enforce a fair pricing scheme for World Cup tickets,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

The spokesman said in an emailed statement that FIFA is in regular contact with the Qatari authorities to ensure that “relevant measures within the relevant law” are implemented.

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Demand is expected to increase towards the end of the World Cup, when there will be fewer games and more bets, and after Qatar dropped a requirement for visitors entering the country to have match tickets.

Outside the official FIFA ticketing center in central Doha on Sunday, loudspeakers played a recorded message on a loop: “No tickets available.”

Argentina fan Federico Criado, 33, said he visited the center every two days, but screens did not show any tickets for Argentina games. He has also spent hours on FIFA’s online platform looking for tickets that are being resold by other fans.

“I think people have chosen to sell them off-platform because they will make more money,” Criado said.

Reporting by Charlotte Bruneau and Andrew Mills; Written by Andrew Mills; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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