Asian Cup: Empty stadiums and poor facilities under the spotlight | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 23.01.2019
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Asian Cup: Empty stadiums and poor facilities under the spotlight

The sight of empty seats at continental football tournaments is never a good look but it's been all too common at the Asian Cup. Coaches have bemoaned a lack of atmosphere and poor facilities in the United Arab Emirates.

As the Asian Cup takes a short break before the quarterfinals begin on Thursday, attention is being turned to the swathes of empty seats across the stadiums in the UAE.

"I personally think the atmosphere of the Asian Cup could be a little more enthusiastic, more exciting," Iran boss Carlos Queiroz told reporters recently.

"To be honest not only me but the Chinese, everyone, has been talking about it. (They) expected much better and a more enthusiastic atmosphere all over the country and at all the stadiums," added the former Real Madrid boss.

Despite the tournament's slogan reading: "Bringing Asia together", the 2019 tournament has failed to draw crowds. 

Dwindling numbers

Queiroz' side impressed at World Cup 2018 and look one of the teams to beat this month, but barely 5,000 watched them thrash Yemen 5-0 in their opening game at Abu Dhabi's Mohammed bin Zayed stadium, which holds 40,000.

Fans have been notable by their absence at the tournament (picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS/CMS/U. Pedersen)

Fans have been notable by their absence at the tournament

Worse still, only about a thousand turned up for last 16 games involving defending champions Australia and Asian superpower Japan, in theory two of the competition's bigger draws, while even hosts UAE have played at half-empty grounds. Some fans have even claimed they have been asked by Asian Cup officials to leave their allotted areas to fill seats directly opposite the television cameras.

"We were expecting a bigger turnout," Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, chairman of the UAE General Authority for Sports, told press agency AFP.

"We are surprised by the lack of UAE fans too," he admitted in an interview. "This is a culture that I hope will change. Loyalty must always be there, win or lose.". 

A number of issues

But the complaints haven't stopped at the lack of atmosphere. Teams have complained of poor facilities, with one from the Middle East accusing organisers of "cultural insensitivity" for suggesting their players use the hotel pool to aid their recovery despite the presence of bikini-clad holiday makers.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has been unimpressed by the atmosphere at the Asian Cup (Getty Images/F. Nel)

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has been unimpressed by the atmosphere at the Asian Cup

Politics, perhaps unsurpisingly, has also played a part. Qatar's 6-0 demolition of North Korea was watched by just a 452 people in Al-Ain, with the long-running blockade of the Gulf state by its neighbours cited as the reason for the poor attendance.

UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni, rather strangely, blamed "cold weather" for another disappointing turnout while Oman coach Pim Verbeek has complained of being unable to watch games on TV, the matches are all on pay TV channel beIN Sports.

Some have questioned what impact these issues will have on Gianni Infantino's wish for an expanded World Cup 2022. In order to host 48 teams, Qatar would likely have to rely on the support of the UAE. 

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