Despite reports of huge crowds and capacity bookings in hotels and on airlines for soccer's World Cup in Spain, now only three weeks off, you can get there from here. All you need is money--or a little ingenuity and perseverance.
But attending all or part of the Cup could cost as much as $6,500, not including air fare. "It is pretty expensive," admitted Ian Kerr, an agent in the Washington bureau of Thomas Cook Travel. "The prices have turned some people off."
Most fans will leave Spain with decidedly lighter wallets because of policies established by Mundiespana, the Cup's organizing committee. As with previous World Cups, fans have been discouraged from making their own arrangements, under the theory that chaos will ensue unless lodging and ticket-dispersing are controlled.
Mundiespana's travel packages include lodging, two meals a day and tickets to a varying number of games, depending on how many a fan wants to see and how much money he wants to spend.
Mundiespana sets price controls and other limitations on these packages and then markets them through licensed agents throughout the world. Prices may vary slightly because, for instance, one agency may arrange for transportation to hotels and stadiums and another may not. But generally a fan booking in Germany would pay about the same as one booking in Argentina.
"There are very strict regulations in what can be offered in these packages," said Jose Saez, Northeast regional president of New York-based Marsans International, the agency operated by the Spanish government that is overseeing travel packages in the United States.
Added Saez: "There have been some complaints over prices, but that's the way it is. We have no alternative. But our experience is that most Americans want to have everything set up."
Margie Schiff is the World Cup coordinator for Marsans International. She says Marsans was allotted 925 packages and has sold nearly all of them.
"There are a few plans left," she said. "And there have been some cancellations. But at this late date, the buyer has to put up 50 percent of the price as a deposit. And you may be put on the outskirts of the city, maybe an hour from the stadium."
Although tickets are being sold to foreign fans primarily through travel packages, Schiff said some tickets may be obtained at a stadium or from Spaniards who bought them when they were placed on advance sale.
"It's not impossible for someone to attend the Cup on his own," Kerr said. "And for our special clients, we might try to make arrangements. But for non-Spanish-speaking people, it would be pretty difficult."
Not necessarily, says Georges Edeline.
"In 1974, I went to Germany without tickets or a place to stay and I saw every game I wanted," said Edeline, the former soccer coach at George Washington University. "I looked around and searched for a good deal. I looked into charters. I did a lot of work in advance.
"Obviously, when you're on your own, you can't be as demanding as if you were paying a lot of money on a package. You have to be flexible. If you can't get tickets to a particular game, you might have to watch it on television or go to another one.
"But I saw six or seven games, bought my tickets the day of the game, and never paid more than face value. I was too realistic to expect to get tickets to the semifinals or final, but it was the atmosphere I wanted, anyway."
Edeline said he was able to find cheap accommodations in pensions with little problem, although he avoided large cities on game days. As for the day of the final: "I sat in front of the tube in a bar in Frankfurt, right across from the train station."
There is another way. Those wanting to avoid the cost and the hassle now have the same option the rest of the world has had for years: watching the games at home.
Previously, Cup games have been available in the United States only on closed-circuit television. This year, SIN, the Spanish-language television network in the United States, has paid $1.5 million for rights to all 52 games. The SIN outlet in Washington is Channel 56.
In addition, ABC will televise the final on July 11.