Surprise date change eclipses World Cup 100-day countdown

FOOTBALL: Organizers FIFA and Qatar yesterday (August 12) counted the cost of bringing the start of the World Cup one day forward as they launched the 100-day countdown to the event.

People gather outside the dome housing the countdown to the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup as it marks one hundred days, in the capital Doha yesterday (August 12). Photo: AFP

Football’s governing body and the wealthy Gulf state both promised to help fans, sponsors and broadcasters affected by the change, but did not give details.

The organizing committee said ‘huge excitement’ was building up for the World Cup, which will now start on November 20, but only a small group of migrant workers gathered at the main countdown clock on the Doha waterfront to see the 100 days come to an end.

The sudden decision to bring forward Qatar’s game against Ecuador – to make it the opening game of the gala – has added to Qatar’s PR battle, as it thwarts criticism over its rights record and fans are worried about what to expect when they arrive.

FIFA said its senior leadership had unanimously agreed that the Qatar-Ecuador match and opening ceremony at Al Bayt Stadium should be a “stand-alone” event.

This decision continued the tradition of presenting the host country or the defending champions in the first game.

Qatar was due to play the official inaugural match on November 21, but the third game of the day behind Senegal-Netherlands and England against Iran.

The Group A match between Senegal and the Netherlands has been moved from 1:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. Phuket time) on November 21 to 7:00 p.m.

FIFA said tickets for the affected matches “will remain valid” and added that it would “seek to resolve any issues arising from this change on a case-by-case basis”.

Billions of dollars spent

Qatari organizers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, hailed FIFA’s gesture for their “unique opportunity” to host the event.

“The impact of this decision on supporters has been assessed by FIFA. We will work together to ensure a smooth tournament for supporters affected by the change,” the organizers added in a statement, without giving details.

Some Ecuadorian fans may have to change flights to arrive in Qatar earlier.

Paul Flores, director of a car company in Quito, said he would have to change the flight and doubted he would get compensation.

Flores, his wife and two children, had planned to go to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi on November 20 and then to the World Cup match in Ecuador the following day. He has tickets for five World Cup matches in all.

“We don’t know what to do,” he told AFP, stressing that he would have to sacrifice one of the two tests. “It’s crazy.”

“We can’t even begin to calculate how much it will cost and I don’t think FIFA will pay me.”

Ricardo Fort, a sports industry consultant and former head of sports marketing for Coca Cola – a major FIFA backer – said the date change would be “a huge problem for sponsors”.

“They invited and confirmed hospitality guests, booked flights and hotels, and contracted with all the necessary logistics. Imagine changing everything! Fort wrote on Twitter.

Some companies linked to the first World Cup in an Arab country, however, expressed confidence that any disruption would be overcome.

No big problem’

“It’s really not – compared to other challenges we might have faced or have faced in the past – a particularly big problem,” said Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match Hospitality, who has a contract with FIFA. to organize hospitality packages for the Mondial. cup matches and blocked 450,000 tickets for the tournament.

He said the priority would be to help Ecuadorian customers.

The official countdown clocks for the event were quickly changed and the events of the last 100 days were hastily moved from Saturday to Friday.

Most of the events were low-key although Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar organizing committee, said there was “huge excitement” in the state of 2.8 million people.

Organizers said there would be seven entertainment zones around Doha, away from the eight stadiums, but did not say whether beer would be served. Alcohol sales are severely restricted in the conservative Muslim nation.

Despite doubts over Qatar’s record on labor rights and its treatment of the LGBTQ community, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said Qatar will stage the “best” World Cup ever.

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