By the time the FIFA World Cup in Qatar finishes on December 18, it is estimated that the country will have hosted well over a million visitors in a country with a population of under three million. Most of these visitors will travel by air, arriving either at Hamad International Airport (DOH) or the older Doha International Airport (DIA). The tournament relies on aviation, and the tournament’s growth and expansion have coincided with the advent of mass air travel.
Arriving in and traveling around the host country
Large global sporting events require reliable and efficient transport infrastructure. They are often a stimulus for infrastructure investments in time for the tournament to help spectators travel and leave a legacy afterward.
In 2014 the tournament was held in Brazil across 12 cities. The distances involved required spectators to fly between venues, and it was believed passenger numbers increased by over 11% from the corresponding months in 2013. This was made possible by investment in aviation infrastructure across the country in preparation for the tournament. Billions of dollars were spent on airports, increasing aviation capacity by over 50%.
For the first time in the history of the World Cup, there were two host nations in 2002. South Korea and Japan jointly hosted the competition, bringing logistical challenges with teams and fans traveling between venues and, for the first time, between different countries.
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How countries get to the World Cup
Thirteen countries took part in the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. All of the games were played in Montevideo across three venues. At the time, commercial aviation was in its infancy and expensive. Arriving by ship was the preferred choice, and the four European countries taking part had the longest journeys. Belgium, France, and Romania traveled on a passenger ship built in Scotland called the Conte Verde.
Also traveling onboard the vessel were FIFA officials and the World Cup trophy. Yugoslavia traveled independently but were supposed to have traveled with the Egyptian team until they missed the voyage due to bad weather.
One of the longest journeys ever made to a World Cup was by the Dutch East Indies in 1938. It took 22 days to sail to the Netherlands, where they based themselves, before playing their only game in the host country of France.
Nowadays, it is much simpler as teams generally charter an aircraft to take them to the World Cup. This is as much through professionalism as necessity, as a large backroom staff supplements the squad of players. Some nations will charter an aircraft with a special livery just for the occasion, such as Germany often do, and also Egypt for the 2018 World Cup in Russia when the aircraft was emblazoned with images of the players on the Egyptair B737-800.
Qatar World Cup
The 2022 World Cup is being played within a small geographical area, and the venues are close to each other, negating the need to fly between them. The organizers have committed to reducing and offsetting all carbon emissions for the 2022 World Cup to make it the first carbon-neutral tournament. Travel accounts for over 50% of total emissions at the World Cup, most of which is attributed to flights.
However, Qatar Airways is operating flights from neighboring countries to bring in spectators during the tournament to solve the issue of insufficient accommodation in Qatar. Qatar Airways has stated that emissions from these flights have been accounted for in the carbon-neutral proposals.
Three countries will host the 2026 World Cup. Canada, Mexico, and the USA will be joint hosts, and the tournament will be expanded to 48 teams. It will be spread across 16 cities – 11 in the USA, three in Mexico, and two in Canada. Aviation will be essential to the tournament’s success with the distances involved and will further demonstrate the link between air travel and the World Cup.