FIFA called out over apparent 'lie' as photo highlights glaring problem

A shot of Qtar's Al Bayt Stadium is seen left, with several fans not in their seats, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino is pictured right.
FIFA has been forced to clarify the officially listed attendance figures for each World Cup match, yet another brutal blow for FIFA boss Gianni Infantino. Pictures: Getty Images

FIFA has been called out for a strange trend at the World Cup, in which official crowd figures for a number of matches appear to have been inflated. Official figures from the first few World Cup matches would indicate a series of near sold-out matches, but images and footage showing an array of empty seats have begged questions about their accuracy.

An official attendance figure of 59,407 was reported for Morocco's clash against Croatia - which would have meant almost every seat in the Al Bayt Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000, would have been filled.

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However reports and images uploaded to Twitter by New York Times reporter Tariq Panja showed that was clearly not the case, with vast portions of the stadium going unoccupied for the Group F match. It comes after the attendance figures for several matches on the first day of the World Cup were submitted as being higher than the overall stadium capacity for the venues in which they were played.

A total of four matches earlier this week were recorded as having attendance which exceeded the capacity of the stadiums they were played in, some by several thousand more.

The eyebrow-raising figures have lead to some speculation the numbers have been massaged somewhat, with Pania quipping that the apparently thousands of unseen fans at the Morocco-Croatia game must have been so impossibly small they couldn't be seen.

“Morocco fans making decent sound in Al Khor even though stadium is about half full/empty for this game,” he wrote on Twitter. “Perhaps organisers had tension between having enough accommodation and letting ticket-less fans enter country to buy on arrival? Small local population means games not full.”

The reporter was left absolutely baffled when the official attendance figure was reported. “It isn’t (59,407). Unless there are some tiny, tiny people sitting in those thousands of empty seats,” Panja wrote.

Several FIFA World Cup matches report dodgy attendance figures

It follows several other instances of venues recording official attendance figures that far outstrip the publicly stated maximum capacity for each of the stadiums in use.

Host nation Qatar's match against Ecuador at the 60,000 seat Al Bayt Stadium was reported as having a whopping 67,372 fans in attendance. England and Iran's clash at the 40,000 Khalifas International Stadium had some 45,334 come through the gate.

The 41,000 seat Al Thumama Stadium played host to 41,721 spectators for the Netherlands' clash against Senegal, while 43,418 fans piled into the 40,000 seat Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for the USA vs Wales showdown.

Several of the aforementioned matches also contained visibly obvious sections of each stadium in which there were few, if any, fans seated.

Moroccan fans are pictured cheering their team on at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Moroccan fans were out in force at the FIFA World Cup, but doubts remain about the true number of people travelling to the major event. (Photo by DeFodi Images/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

However according to FIFA, there is a perfectly good explanation for the clear discrepancy in the figures. The listed capacity for each stadium is a 'reference capacity' meant to fit FIFA requirements, with the governing body claiming each venue had a greater capacity than shown online.

Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup has come under significant scrutiny, with human rights at the forefront of the criticism. Reports have suggested as many as 6500 have died during the construction of the eight stadiums, as well as widespread complains about pay and passports being withheld by employers.

FIFA themselves have also been heavily criticised after threatening to issue yellow cards to the captains of seven European teams if they went ahead with plans to wear 'OneLove' armbands in support of LGBTQ+ rights.

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