The tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar plans to slam its borders shut to nearly all visitors apart from FIFA Soccer World Cup match ticket holders – a last-ditch attempt to stand any chance of coping with the massive influx of soccer fans expected during the four weeks of the soccer tournament from late November into December 2022.
Qatar’s bid to host the World Cup has been surrounded by controversy ever since the country clinched the rights to host the tournament in 2010. From rumoured dodgy deals to a myriad of human rights abuses – More than 6,500 migrant workers are believed to have died in Qatar in the last 12 years.
The 2022 tournament is expected to be the most expensive in history with Qatar expected to have spent more than US $200 billion on stadia and infrastructure for the event. But it’s no secret that a country, which at 11,586 sq km is about 59 times smaller than Texas, still lacks enough space and amenities to deal with an estimated influx of 1.5 million overnight visitors.
So on Thursday, Qatar’s Ministry of the Interior announced it was taking drastic action. The country will ‘suspend’ entry to visitors beginning 1st November 2022 until 23rd December 2022.
During this time, only Qatari citizens or ID card holders will be permitted across the border from land, sea or air. Certain visa holders, essential to keep the country’s economy running, as well as a limited number of humanitarian cases will also be allowed to enter.
The only other exception will be for visitors who have already secured a ticket for a FIFA World Cup match. All match ticket holders must also apply for a special visa known as a ‘Hayya Card’ that will grant them entry to Qatar, access to stadia and free travel on public transport.
Facing up to the fact that the country doesn’t have nearly enough room to handle up to three million soccer fans who will have secured tickets for the tournament, Qatar has already announced a World Cup shuttle service that will see regional airlines operate as many as 160 flights per day to and from Doha on match days.
Qatar Airways chief executive Baker Al Baker boasted earlier this year that the shuttle service would allow the entire Gulf region to share the economic benefits of the World Cup, although that really means that Dubai which already has the necessary infrastructure to handle mass tourism could stand to benefit the most.
With so many extra flights, Qatar has been forced to reopen an old decommissioned passenger airport, while Al Baker has said the national carrier will suspend or reduce service to around 20 destinations to focus on serving soccer fans.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.