By RONALD BLUM
DOHA, Qatar – Hector Garcia’s family struggled to understand his decision to travel to this year’s World Cup and abandon his annual gathering of 30 family and friends.
“This would have been my 40th year of cooking turkey and I gave that up to be here. It was difficult,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re going to miss Thanksgiving? I think, well, yeah, it’s the World Cup. Not my fault they held it in the fall, in the winter.”
Garcia, a 59-year-old from Glendale Heights, Illinois, spoke at an American fan gathering Sunday night wearing an Uncle Sam suit. He said he has tickets to 28 of the 64 games in his fifth World Cup after 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2018.
The move of the tournament from its usual June/July slot to November/December may have caused some American fans to skip the trip to Qatar. Others, who were used to taking a football trip out of the summer vacation, couldn’t make the trek because the school is in session.
The US Football Association said it had sold about 3,300 tickets for the Americans’ opening game against Wales on Monday, 3,800 for Friday’s game against England and 3,100 for the group stage final on Nov. 29 against Iran. Conditional tickets for the knockout stages were also sold: around 2,100 for the round of 16, 1,100 each for a quarter-final and a semi-final, 800 for the third-place match and 1,500 for the final on 18 December.
FIFA did not state how many tickets it sold directly to the US, only that American residents bought the third most tickets behind Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
For the 2014 tournament in Brazil, more than 200,000 tickets were purchased by US citizens, second only to the host, according to FIFA. After the USA failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA said after the group stage that US citizens had bought around 97,000 tickets on their website.
“I think the reason for the difference is mainly due to the cost factors associated with traveling to Qatar,” said Donald Wine II, board member of the American Outlaws support group. “That excluded a lot of people who would normally go to a World Cup, whether it’s in June or November.”
The American outlaws refused to accept paid travel and lodging from Qatari organizers. It will also not host events like it did in Brazil, aiming instead for gatherings at next year’s Women’s World Cup.
“From the start, we have expressed our disappointment with Qatar’s selection to host the World Cup, from human rights abuses, labor conditions to LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights,” the outlaws said in a statement. “The organizers of this World Cup have made it extremely difficult for groups like AO to help fans come to the World Cup, feel safe and welcome, or host events on their terms. As such, the organization is not holding standalone events in Qatar as we hope to do in New Zealand and Australia next year.”
The US Soccer Association holds fan meetings at a “Budweiser Club” next to a hotel in Doha on the eve of all American games. While Qatar banned alcohol from stadiums, it was available at the party – for 115 Qatari Riyals per drink, or about $32.
“I plan to be at every World Cup for the rest of my life. I’m addicted,” said Rodney Marayag, a 41-year-old from Inglewood, California. “I love sports. I love to travel.”
Among the fans was Kanikah Perry-Acosta, mother of US midfielder Kellyn Acosta. Fresh off a flight from Houston to Seattle and on to Qatar, she wore a new t-shirt made available to families by the USSF.
“He’s living his dream,” she said of her son. “It is wonderful.”