Fake tickets, real tickets, gifted tickets, cheap tickets, expensive tickets, no tickets, empty seats and, of course, touted tickets – ticketing has been one of the themes of this World Cup.
The lack of availability to genuine fans is set against the apparently plentiful supply to sponsors, the FIFA family and well-connected figures who sell seats for extortionate prices for the profit of the already rich.
FIFA likes to sell most of its tickets to locals, and does not monitor their subsequent use in the same way that European football – particularly the English game – does with little fuss.
As I was flying back from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro following Argentina’s penalty shoot-out win over Netherlands, I found out about an English supporter, a fan of world football and veteran of 12 World Cups, whose tickets for two matches had been stolen from his buttoned-up pockets in a bar in Rio.
I tracked down this fan, a highly-educated, well-travelled gentleman from South West London called Nicholas.
“I was about to go to Colombia and Uruguay’s last-16 match at the Maracana on June 28, and was watching Brazil v Chile in a restaurant beforehand,” Nicholas Harling – a Crystal Palace fan from South West London – told me.
“At one point I realised I had been pickpocketed, and my ticket for that match – plus a pair for what would be Brazil and Colombia’s quarter-final match in Fortaleza on July 4 – had all been lifted.
“I spent almost the entire 90 minutes filling out police reports. As I was fairly certain that the ticket for that game had been sold onto an unsuspecting person, I declined the offer to cancel the ticket which would have meant the ejection of the Colombian who had apparently bought the ticket for $360.
“But I did cancel the other two stolen tickets which were for the Brazil v Colombia game on July 4 in Fortaleza.”
Armed with his police report, and bearing in mind the tickets were booked in his name and he had retained the seat numbers, he spoke to FIFA’s ticket office expecting them to be replaced, in line with their ticketing policy.
They refused, not just to replace the tickets, but to resell them to him at face value.
That was not the end of the matter because Nicholas was part of a group of four friends, and two of them still had their tickets – sat right next to the stolen ones.
“Somewhat fortunately I was able to go to that game after all but only because the friend who had bought the two seats next to mine changed his mind about going as he had tickets for another match that would have been difficult to make in time.
“He kindly gave them to me so I went to the game.”
Nicholas arrived at Fortaleza's Arena Castelao expecting to be able to put his feet up on the empty seats. But, to his surprise, Nicholas found two fans sat in ‘his’ old seats – even though his tickets had supposedly been cancelled, irreplaceable.
“I thought perhaps the ticket check had failed and these unsuspecting fans had bought stolen tickets.
“So I asked them where they got them, expecting to be told about a shady tout or one of those scam websites selling tickets at a huge profit.”
Nicholas could not have been more surprised.
“They had bought the tickets, legally, before the game, from FIFA’s website.”
So FIFA had cancelled Nicholas’ stolen tickets, refused to reissue or resell them to him, and sold them to other fans.
I contacted FIFA, and asked them about their policy of replacing stolen tickets, and whether they resold cancelled or stolen tickets.
Here was their response:
“FIFA is only not reprinting lost and stolen tickets on match day at the stadium and this is for security reasons.
“However, if people come with a police report to the ticketing centre on any other day than on match day the stolen/lost tickets will be cancelled and naturally reprinted/replaced for the original buyer.
“This process has been ongoing during the FIFA World Cup.”
I have separately heard of fans having tickets stolen and replaced. I am also aware that FIFA is cautious of reissuing tickets without the correct paperwork, or to anyone but the named purchaser.
But Nicholas says he had his police report. Here are the details:
Registro de ocorrencia No 018/3238/14; Origem 18a DP no 3238/14; Data e Hora do fato: 28/06/2014 as 16h00min; Local: Spice Restaurant.
He also contacted FIFA ticketing well ahead of the match yet – in direct contravention of their policy – was refused new tickets.
He had his selection of tickets after applying for a batch which followed Ivory Coast’s route through the World Cup, guaranteeing him seats for matches of the teams which replaced the African side in the event of their exit.
In my email to FIFA, I also asked whether they resold cancelled tickets. There was no mention of this practise in their response. I have retained the email, requested further information and am still awaiting a follow-up.
In the interest of journalistic integrity, I asked Nicholas to provide me with the seat numbers of his stolen tickets for Brazil v Colombia in Fortaleza.
Not only did he give me the locations – Entrance Sul, Gate B, Block 201, seats 4 & 5 – but he provided me with the names of the fans who ended up in ‘his’ seats: Marcela Melo and Danilu Mendes Silva. I also photographed the ticket he ended up using, sat directly next to his stolen seats.
This might all have been an administrative failure - a FIFA volunteer may have erroneously told Nicholas he could not have his tickets replaced, and refused to re-sell them to him before putting them back on the open market.
But, in the context of the ongoing scandal regarding MATCH – the FIFA-affiliated organisation accused of ringleading the illegal sale of tickets, whose head honcho Ray Whelan is reportedly on the run from Brazilian authorities – it is more evidence that match-going supporters are little more than an afterthought to the game's administrators.
FIFA's motto grandly proclaims: 'For the Game, For the World'. But not, it seems, for the fans.
- Sports & Recreation