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As if by magic: the capacity of the World Cup stadium in Qatar grows by 12% overnight | World Cup 2022

The Qatar World Cup took another strange turn on Tuesday when the capacity of the eight stadiums officially grew by 12%.

Overnight, Al Bayt Stadium, which hosted the opening game, went from 60,000 in the pre-tournament guide to 68,895 on the official website – while the largest stadium, the Lusail, went from 80,000 to 88,966. It came after fans were confused by the number of visitors exceeding the stadium’s capacity in each match.

This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, The Guardian has covered the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights violations to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is collected on our dedicatedQatar: beyond footballhome page for those who want to dig deeper into the issues off the field.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, The Guardian has covered the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights violations to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is collected on our dedicated Qatar: beyond football home page for those who want to dig deeper into the issues off the field.

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A source close to the organizers insisted the original figures reflected FIFA’s requirements that stadiums must have a minimum capacity of 80,000, 60,000 and 40,000. The Qataris have since found that the number of seats they needed for broadcasting, media and sponsorship was lower than expected, hence the increase in capacity.

The source added that the Lusail can accommodate 92,000 ahead of broadcast and media demands. Overall, the combined capacities listed on Qatar’s World Cup site have risen from a combined 380,000 to 426,221 on Tuesday.

However, a second mystery remains: why there seem to be far more empty seats than the official visitor numbers claim. Official figures suggest that more than 88,000 people watched Saudi Arabia shocks Argentina at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday — less than a thousand shy of capacity — but pockets of available seats were visible all over the venue.

The first and most likely explanation is that cardholders don’t show up. The biggest gaps in all matches – especially the visibly under-attended game between Senegal and the Netherlands on Monday – are those in the most expensive seats running down the side of the field in the first two tiers. This may mean that sponsors or invitees have chosen not to attend.

Tickets may also be held by local fans who cannot make it to the match. although FIFA has confirmed that Qatar is one of the countries that bought the largest share of the 3 million available tickets. Unsurprisingly for a host country, the exact number of tickets sold has not been published.

This week The Guardian met with a Qatari fan who said he had tickets for 20 matches. These were bought with two separate FIFA accounts, an unauthorized practice, and he said the majority of his friends had done the same. Finally, foreign visitors who bought tickets in the original vote may have chosen not to travel.

Another possible explanation is the system used on the ground to sell tickets that have been returned or not sold. A central office at the DECC metro station in Doha’s West Bay provides constant access to available match tickets. But the sales system doesn’t always show every match on sale, with most fixtures appearing sold out until the digital displays are refreshed to show new options.

Empty seats at Senegal v Netherlands on Monday
Empty seats at Senegal v Netherlands on Monday. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Other possible factors include problems with the digital ticketing systems, with “ticket resolution” being the site of significant queues leading up to both the Saudi and England matches.

However, it is certainly the case that the organizers have discussed the number of people coming to the tournament – with Fifa president Gianni Infantino saying on Friday: “Three million people will be watching in the stands.” That claim doesn’t always match the eye test.

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