World Cup 2014: Fifa under pressure over empty seats at opening matches
The last time the World Cup came to Brazil in 1950, some 200,000 people are estimated to have piled in to the Estadio Maracana, to see the hosts shocked by rivals Uruguay.
Sixty-four years on, this World Cup is becoming known for its empty seats rather than teeming crowds.
Fifa and the local tournament organisers were last night under growing pressure to explain why almost all the early matches – bar the opener between Brazil and Croatia – have been played in partially unfilled stadiums, even when the games were meant to have been sold out.
A World Cup in football-mad Brazil was meant to be the Copa das Copas – the Cup of Cups. But Brazil’s appetite for this eye-wateringly expensive tournament appears lukewarm.
On Sunday afternoon, Switzerland played Ecuador in Brasilia, in the 72,500 capacity Arena Brasilia which appeared, at best, two-thirds full. While reports indicated that many fans were still outside waiting in security lines as the match kicked off, the ground didn’t appear to be substantially more full by the second half. Fifa gave the official attendance as 68,351.
Television viewers also spotted hundreds if not thousands of empty seats at two of the most glamorous ties of the opening weekend – Spain vs the Netherlands on Friday and England against Italy on Saturday.
On Sunday night, World Cup football returned to the Maracana, arguably the most illustrious football stadium in the world, for Argentina against Bosnia Herzegovina. But with hours to go before kick-off tickets priced around £80 were still available to purchase online.
With Brazil having spent nearly £7bn of public money on the tournament, a large percentage of tickets are made available for the exclusive purchase of the home nation, which means the ticket sales website is divided in to two streams. On the page for non- Brazilians, only a few matches still have large availability, such as Russia vs South Korea in Cuiaba on Tuesday.
But the Brazilian section told a different story. Much has been made of Brazil’s extravagant spending on the tournament while so many of its people live in conditions of appalling poverty. As such, it may not be surprising that £110 tickets for Bosnia Herzegovina vs Iran in Salvador next week remain largely unsold.
In response to the growing empty-seat clamour, a Fifa spokesman claimed that a total of 2.9 million tournament tickets had been allocated, with only 9,327 remaining.
However, an “allocated” seat is not necessarily a sold seat. Large numbers of tickets distributed to national Football Associations often go unsold and return to the general pot. England quickly sold all 2,500 of its official allocation for the game in Manaus on Saturday night. Italy were reported to have sold only 200 of their’s, and returned the rest.
Manaus itself, a difficult- to-reach city with not much in the way of footballing culture, will also host matches between the USA and Portugal, Cameroon and Croatia, and Honduras vs Switzerland. What use the city will have for its £175m stadium, after it has finished hosting its four World Cup matches is also uncertain.