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Attendance Is a Concern at 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar
There was much outcry following the announcement that Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Many have accused FIFA officials of wrongdoing and have spoken out loudly about having the world’s most popular soccer tournament held in a nation that has not proven that it can properly host such large scale tournaments. The attendance at the 2011 Asian Football Conderation (AFC) Asian Cup has not helped to quell any concerns and have given detractors more fuel for their fire.
Asian Cup Attendance OverviewA January 19, 2011 ESPN article states that the organizers of the tournament are trying desperately to raise attendance numbers. Average attendance for the AFC Asian Cup through January 26 was 12,009. However, much of the support comes from fans of Qatar, whose team averaged 32,741 fans at their matches. However, even attendance for the matches that Qatar plays in has been disappointing. According to a January 17 Times of India article, there were many empty rows of seats that could be spotted for Qatar’s final must win group match against Kuwait.
Attracting Fans From Other NationsThe Times of India article quotes tournament director Tokuaki Suzuki, who stated, “”We try our best to attract people to come here,” said tournament director Tokuaki Suzuki, adding it was particularly hard to draw large crowds to stadiums when there are two games going on at the same time. There are not so many people who came to Qatar from China,” he said. “We are trying our best to attract fans to the stadiums.”
The Peninsula, Qatar’s leading English daily newspaper, reported in a January 17 article that there was an exodus of fans from Saudi Arabia following the nation’s elimination from contention for the knockout stage. Sources state that Saudi Arabia were unquestionably that Saudi fans accounted for the largest number of fans.
Problems With Increasing Attendance A January 14 Canadian Press article points out a couple of reasons the AFC has noted for the low attendance numbers in Qatar for the Asian Cup. One of the problems the AFC is having in filling the stadiums is the relatively low number of foreign fans who have traveled to Qatar to watch the tournament. Another problem that the AFC points out is that many of the tickets were bought up by corporations who are not sending any fans to the matches. According to the Times of India article, Suzuki stated, “In future, we decided that each person is allowed to buy 10 tickets only, This is one solution.”
The FA Daily, in a January 24 post, points out that tickets to the matches have been offered to fans at very low numbers and that they have not been bought despite the fact that Qataris have the second highest per capita income in the world according to a 2006 International Monetary Fund report.
Iranian coach Afshin Ghotbi was been very frustrated with the attendance. He pleaded with locals to fill the stadiums during the tournament. He stated, “If Qataris like football, they should come to the stadium,” he said. “Come to the matches in support, not only of the Qatari team, but in support of the tournament and the game of football. The world is watching Qatar to see if they are able to host the 2022 World Cup. It’s important the seats are full.”
Why Are Fans Staying Away?There is simply not much interest from Asian soccer fans in any teams outside of their own nation. The ESPN article quoted earlier stated that Qatar had no competition to host the 2011 Asian Cup. India and Iran expressed interest in hosting the tournament but did not provide solid bids to do so. Countries such as Korea and Japan have little motivation to host the tournament.
The Asian media has played a big part in low fan interest in Asian soccer. There is much exposure given to European club and, even in Japan and Korea, which have the strongest leagues in Asia, more press coverage is given to an Asian player making an appearance in a European league than is given to Asian soccer, on a weekly basis. Some media outlets are starting to give the Asian Cup coverage similar to the European Championships, but progress will likely be slow.
Despite Low Attendance, AFC Says It’s PleasedSuzuki, despite the criticism and low turnout, stated, “We are satisfied with the crowds in stadiums, not only numbers but the atmosphere. Of course, we need to improve. If all matches were a full house, it would be better.” While he seems satisfied, it is likely that most of the vocal critics of FIFA’s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will not find such a statement comforting at all.