Global Thread

Qatar in regards to ‘Travel plans’ during World Cup 2022 could be worst

Every four years, an episode of wilful wistfulness sweeps across England. The national football team’s last great moment was over half a century ago. And in the build-up to England’s first World Cup game (against Tunisia on Monday 18 June), there is plenty of careless talk about whether the side can emulate their success in the 1966 tournament, when England beat West Germany 4-2 in the final.

In that far-off festival of football, aviation did not figure in ferrying players or fans around England: the most distant stadium from Wembley was Roker Park in Sunderland, little more than 200 miles away, and trains and buses were quite sufficient.

Russia 2018 is partly run on rail, with fans heading for Yekaterinburg travelling on football specials the route of the Trans-Siberian. But many supporters, as well as the teams, the organisers and the media, are shuttling around the world’s biggest nation by air.

The 2026 tournament, held jointly by Canada, the US and Mexico, looks even more extreme, with likely venues strung out across North America from Mexico City via Miami to Montreal.

And in between: as you know, the 2022 World Cup was fairly and squarely awarded to Qatar. As this Gulf nation is smaller than Yorkshire, planes will not be necessary. Or will they?

No one knows which teams will qualify for the desert tournament, but however fast Qatar’s infrastructure expands, there is no prospect that all the fans and players could be accommodated in the host nation. So there has been plenty of talk about staying in Dubai or Abu Dhabi and flying across the 200-mile divide for games in Qatar.

That won’t be possible if the current geopolitical row in the Gulf continues. For almost a year, Qatar has been squaring up against the UAE, Saudi Arabia and some other Middle East countries. And from the traveller’s perspective, Qatar Airways is banned from a lot of useful airspace.

The diplomats have four years to try to solve the crisis, but meanwhile passengers on Qatar Airways are enduring some painfully extended flights. I have been keeping tabs on the flight path of QR773 from Doha to Sao Paulo. From Manchester there is a swift one-hour connection for the flight to South America – but you might not be tempted when you see how extended the journey is between the great footballing nations of Qatar and Brazil.

The most direct route between bisects Saudi Arabia. But the airspace ban extends the journey by almost 1,000 m

Robbie Williams performs

Robbie Williams performs

Robbie Williams performs

Fan zone in Yekaterinburg

Diego Maradona looks on

Colombia fans before the match

The first half-hour the plane aims east, getting further away from South America by the minute, before turning south over the Musandam Peninsula of Oman. It then typically flies out over the Indian Ocean and across Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Congo. From the point when it leaves the African coast, there is still the equivalent of a London-New York trip ahead to Sao Paulo.

At around 16 hours, QR773 is close to being the longest flight on the planet – a record currently held by Qatar Airways with its Auckland-Doha flight, which also has to take a longer track to avoid the UAE.

As soon as Russia 2018 is over, fans and teams may be poring over maps of the Gulf to work out where they could possible base their headquarters. On the basis that England are almost certain to qualify (perhaps as a result of winning this summer), I speculate that Cyprus may be hosting the team in 2022.

That might sound absurd, but with just 1,250 miles from Larnaca to Doha, it is barely further than England’s journey on Monday from their St Petersburg HQ to that first match in Volgograd on Monday.

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