You may have noticed something strange during Friday’s World Cup match between Uruguay and Egypt at Ekaterinburg Arena in Russia: swaths of empty seats, helpfully visible to television viewers in bright orange. It must have come as an even bigger surprise to Russian World Cup officials, considering they added temporary seating that jutted outside of the arena in anticipation of big crowds for world soccer’s quadrennial tournament.
FIFA, meanwhile, is baffled. It estimates there were 6,000 empty seats for the Uruguay-Egypt game.
“We can confirm that 32,278 tickets have been allocated for the match between Egypt and Uruguay in Ekaterinburg,” a FIFA spokesman told the Telegraph’s Ben Rumsby. “The FIFA World Cup stadium capacity is 33,061. The fact that the current attendance doesn’t reflect the amount of allocated tickets can be due to different factors, which FIFA is currently investigating.”
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Doing the math, that comes out to about 5,217 no-shows on top of the 783 unsold seats, leaving the stadium at just 82 percent capacity.
Less-than-full stadiums have “become a perennial problem at major sporting events, including at recent World Cups,” Rumsby wrote. “Large numbers of tickets distributed to national football associations often go unsold, while some end up in the hands of touts unable to sell them on.
“Sponsors, who are allocated a certain number of tickets as part of their backing of an event, have also become notorious for no-shows.”
FIFA tried to cut down on ticket reselling this year by mandating that fans both purchase tickets and register for a Fan ID, which nominally would connect the ticket buyer to the ticket. Tickets then are checked against each person’s Fan ID at the stadium gates. But fans can purchase up to four tickets apiece and change the attached registered name on three of them, a loophole scalpers have exploited. Associated Press reporter James Ellingworth said scalpers were plainly visible in Moscow on Thursday ahead of the opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia and wrote that he was approached six times within an hour.
“You just need ID,” one seller told Ellingworth, offering him two tickets that had been issued under Russian men’s names while standing next to an official ticket office sign that said “tickets are not available for most games.”
World Cup scalpers in Russia can be punished by a fine of up to 25 times the ticket’s face value. According to the AP, FIFA has attempted to crack down further by canceling some tickets and filing a criminal complaint against resale website Viagogo.
Ekaterinburg, site of Friday’s Uruguay-Egypt game, is the World Cup’s easternmost outpost this year, two time zones, more than a 24-hour train ride and more than 1,110 miles from Moscow. That also may have played into the empty seats; fans not willing to make the trip unloaded their tickets to resellers who couldn’t find any takers.
Empty seats may be an issue throughout group play: Martyn Ziegler of the London Times reports that tickets are (legally) available for 16 group games, including England’s opener against Tunisia on Monday.
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