Fans to be in Stadiums for 2022 World Cup
The COVID-19 virus has been causing havoc for the football industry since March 2020. Significant numbers of games and competitions across the globe have been cancelled and postponed, not just once but several times, and fans have been told to ‘stay at home’. Slowly, and following strict safety protocols, the game started to get back on its feet again towards the end of the summer. Now domestic matches and leagues are being played, some continental tournaments are going ahead, and the South American World Cup qualifiers have kicked-off. However, more often than not, matches that have and are taking place are doing so behind closed doors and with empty stands - fans are, in the main, still being told to stay away.
Some tentative steps are being made to get fans back into stadiums, particularly in Europe and the UK. However, spectator numbers are severely limited, and there are many restrictions governing movement around the stands. Behind the scenes, a great many people are devoting time to finding the new ‘normal’ for hosting large events, sporting or otherwise, with spectators in attendance. From better and more efficient cleaning, disinfecting and sanitising strategies to technology-based crowd-control, the world is gearing up towards bringing people back to the heart of the action.
For FIFA President Gianni Infantino, this will be a subject close to his heart. From the start of his tenure as FIFA President, he has been vocal about the importance of fans to the football industry, saying that “football without fans is nothing”. A sentiment he has echoed throughout the COVID-19 crisis stating that playing football behind closed doors is not a long-term virus solution, and, for the industry, it is unsustainable. In fact, Infantino has been instrumental in talks with various countries about bringing fans safely back to stadiums - something many fans are keen to see, especially with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon.
With the World Cup just around the corner, it has been interesting to see how the tournament hosts Qatar have dealt with sports during the pandemic. After a brief shutdown of all sporting activities, Qatar’s domestic football leagues were back up and running in June, albeit with no fans. The nation, going one step further, also hosted the AFC Champions League for the west region in September. The tournament proved a successful test of the country’s crisis management abilities. The competition was, under strict health and safety planning and protocols, pulled off with minimal virus cases detected and no internal virus spread. The success of the event prompted the competition organisers, the AFC, to request Qatar’s support in hosting both the east region games and the Final. Though the stadiums will be empty for these matches, Qatar, on the back of these victories against the pandemic, will no doubt be looking to get fans back in the stadiums, especially in time for 2022.
Indeed, in an interview with journalists in Zurich, Infantino recently gave a positive outlook to having fans back in stadiums in time for the World Cup. He reportedly commented that though the virus currently poses a threat to football now, there should, in theory, be enough time before the 2022 tournament for the COVID-19 to be contained. Thus, it seems that even FIFA has ruled out a World Cup with no fans!
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