MOSCOW — No need to book your flights at this moment, partly because they’re not even on sale yet and because committing yourself four years in advance of a trip is just silly.
But if you’re a soccer fan with an appetite for one day witnessing the World Cup in person instead of from the comfort of the couch, stick the next tournament, in four years’ time, down on your calendar.
Etch it onto your bucket list. Tell everyone you are going. Start saving up the pennies. Be ready when the sales period for game tickets opens.
Because the next World Cup is likely to be the most fan-friendly that we’ve seen for a long time, perhaps ever. Yes, it is in Qatar. And yes, it is very possible that you have heard some not very nice things about Qatar. One, that it has oppressively brutal heat. Two, that you can’t get a beer there. And three, that some of its politics and policies are a little on the repressive side.
There is also the small matter of widespread allegations of malfeasance and corruption involved in the bidding process, and some lingering sour grapes that the United States missed out because of it.
We will get to all that, but here is why it will be a dream for fans.
To start, Qatar is tiny. Connecticut is bigger. Russia is 1,478 times bigger. It is by far the smallest nation to host the tournament and it has also never qualified for one. But that diminutive size it what makes it perfect for the cost and time-conscious traveler.
Qatar’s two most remote stadiums, Al Bayt and Al Wakrah, are 90 miles apart. At this summer’s tournament, which has been a resounding success, Kaliningrad and Ekaterinburg were separated by 1,893 miles and a continental dividing line.
Which means that in Qatar, fans will not face the typical problems of being hamstrung by geographical factors. In theory, any game on any given day is a possibility. Or more than one.
That wasn’t the case here except for those with incredible resourcefulness, good fortune or just a ton of cash. Fans from around the world have loved Russia and we all hope will love the United States (with Canada and Mexico) in 2026. But they’ll surely spend a lot of time in transit, just like they did here.
In Qatar, the feel of an Olympic-style atmosphere is likely, with most fans collected in one place. There was a taste of that here in Russia, with Moscow serving as a main base for tens of thousands of supporters, who traveled at great cost to other cities from there. The vibrant presence of huge numbers of South American fans added a joyous flair to the past month.
Accommodating them all in the Qatari capital of Doha may be an issue, part of which may be fixed by docking giant cruise ships in the port. Other options mooted have included setting up tent cities in the nearby desert, which would offer an economical sense of adventure, if not ultimate luxury.
As for the heat, that is only a problem if the heat of the Russian summer this time is to be considered a problem. Qatar is suffocatingly hot, in the summer. The tournament is being staged in the winter. It will still be warm, but not inappropriately so.
Qatar’s human rights record towards migrant workers has been far less in the news lately, but the nation does not get a free pass. It is proper and correct that the impending arrival of the World Cup will lead to more scrutiny of Qatar’s claims that it has significantly improved the plight of its immigrant population.
Whether potential visitors are satisfied by that is up to them. Whether they are prepared to have a decision on visiting the World Cup affected by it is also a personal matter. It is an unfortunate reality that it would be possible for sports fans around the world to find humanitarian or social reasons of conscience to skip most of sports’ biggest recent events. If we are being truly honest, you can include in that the World Cup and Summer Olympics that will be on American shores before the next decade is up.
I offer you only this. If the World Cup has given you the hunger to see it up close and personal, you should. Soccer’s greatest show is a majestic mix of color and humanity and athletic excellence.
And if you care about politics but not to the point of letting it curtail your life’s experiences and if having the chance to see the best play matters and you don’t plan on winning the lottery in the next four years, Qatar might just have what you are looking for.