Victoria Amira convinced three friends to take what they’re calling the trip of a lifetime by promising that if they attended a match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup next month, she would drive them to every vineyard in the south of France for the following two weeks.
Amira, a government worker in Ottawa, is the only soccer fan and only French speaker in the group. She travels around Canada to watch the women’s national team and booked tickets to see Canada face the Netherlands in the tournament’s group stage in Reims.
But when she checked her tickets online Tuesday, Amira found what she could only imagine was a glaring mistake: Each member of her group is seated in a different row.
It’s a problem that has sparked anger and confusion this week as fans rushed FIFA’s website to check their seats and observers again criticized how world soccer’s governing body treats the women’s side of the sport.
“I don’t think this would ever have happened for a men’s World Cup,” said Anelise Cimino, a Division I women’s college soccer referee in New Haven, Conn., whose own World Cup trip has been upended by the ticket fiasco. “They dole those seats out, and everyone knows where they’re going to be. For the Women’s World Cup, they’re just happy someone got tickets. That’s just how it’s being treated.”
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fans who purchased multiple World Cup tickets will not be able to sit with the other members of their groups, and it’s not clear FIFA knows how many ticket orders are affected. A tweet from the Women’s World Cup account on Monday said that “a message indicating not all seats would be located next to each other did appear” before fans purchased tickets online. It said ticket orders could not be modified but that organizers would attempt to help families with young children sit together.
A subsequent tweet said that less than 1 percent of fans who purchased tickets for the semifinals and championship matches were affected and that officials “are confident the problems will be solved and the fans will be able to enjoy the matches as they envisaged.”
But several fans contacted by The Washington Post have not yet heard from FIFA or the French organizing committee responsible for ticketing about rectifying their orders.
A World Cup spokeswoman said in a statement that the organization was in close contact with French tournament officials “to receive more details about the scope of this matter” and that “it is estimated that not having side-by-side seats will affect only a very small number of fans.” She chalked up the difficulties to high demand for seats at popular matches, including the semifinal and final matches.
“In some cases, when matches were almost sold out, the only tickets remaining were for individual seats,” the statement said.
But for fans traveling from around the world, many of whom already have made travel arrangements costing thousands of dollars, the ticketing confusion threatens to disrupt their trip to one of the world’s premier sporting events.
“We’ve already sunk so much money into going so far — we paid for our flights and our lodging — at this point, we can’t back out,” Cimino said. “We’re too far in. I hope they figure out something. Honestly, I think it’s going to be mass chaos at the stadium.”
“What happened in four years that they forgot how to sell tickets?” asked Amira, who attended the 2015 tournament in Canada. “My friend just joked to me that when people went to see the gladiators in Rome, families were probably allowed to sit together.”
Fans were not able to select individual seats for each match and instead had to choose one of four price-fixed categories — from premium to economy seating — along with the number of tickets they wanted to purchase.
Amira selected the top category so she and her friends could get an up-close view of their only World Cup match. A nearly lifelong French speaker, she purchased the tickets on her credit card in a single transaction on the French language website. She said she does not recall seeing any message about the seats potentially being in separate locations.
Nick O’Brien, a soccer coach and history teacher in Kittery, Maine, purchased five tickets to the semifinals and finals. He was assigned two seats side-by-side in rows above and below one another, but his fifth seat is four rows away.
“I don’t mind, worst case, sitting four rows down, but that means I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it with [my family],” he said. “It’s just incompetent. I’ve never heard anything like it.”
Cimino and her group of six friends are spread over a pair of sections near midfield, except for one friend whose ticket is on the opposite sideline.
Nate Bowling, a teacher from Washington state, is separated from his wife by two rows and eight seats. He hopes FIFA is able to fix the problem for people who are separated before the tournament begins. With so many fans displaced, he said, it seemingly should be easier to reconfigure the seating assignments to reunite groups.
But if all else fails, he plans to figure things out on his own once inside the stadium.
“I’m not traveling across the ocean to not sit with my spouse during the most important soccer match we’re ever going to attend,” he said.
Amira hasn’t yet told her friends about the ticket issue and is hoping things will get fixed before she has to break the bad news. Barring another solution, she said, she will look for the Voyageurs, the Canadian team’s traveling band of die-hards, and try to squeeze in with them.
“We want Canada to know that we came across the pond specifically for them,” she said. “So if we have to stand in the stairs and cheer so the red and white can be together, that’s what we’re going to do.”