Qatar on defensive over empty stadiums

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Doha, Jan 17 (AFP) Red-faced 2022 World Cup hosts Qatarwere forced today to explain the rows of empty seats at manyAsian Cup matches after barely 3,500 people watched a crunchgroup game.

Tournament organisers also addressed concerns as to whythe apparently sell-out must-win final group game between thehosts and Kuwait at the 40,000 capacity Khalifa Stadiumyesterday saw many seats unoccupied.

That same evening, only 3,529 people were at Al GharafaStadium -- capacity 22,000 -- to see a thrilling 2-2 drawbetween China, the world''s most populous country, andUzbekistan.

The result saw the Uzbeks top their group and China gohome, while Qatar also progressed to the last eight with a 3-0win.

"We try our best to attract people to come here," saidtournament director Tokuaki Suzuki, adding it was particularlyhard to draw large crowds to stadiums when there are two gamesgoing on at the same time.

"There are not so many people who came to Qatar fromChina," he said. "We are trying our best to attract fans tothe stadiums."

Qatar, which is smaller than the Pacific island ofVanuatu or the American state of Connecticut, controversiallywon the right to host the World Cup in 2022 ahead ofAustralia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi has been among those who haspleaded with local people to fill stadiums at the Asian Cup,warning: "The world is watching."

But his call has gone largely unheeded, with stadiumsusually about half-full. Organisers were also left embarrassedafter Qatar fans left in their droves well before the end ofthe hosts'' opening 2-0 defeat to Uzbekistan.

The cavernous Khalifa Stadium was eerily empty by thetime the final whistle blew, the celebrations of the Uzbeks''small travelling contingent echoing around the ground.

Jassim Al Rumaihi, spokesman for the local organisingcommittee, admitted he was "shocked" by the vast rows of emptyseats at the China-Uzbekistan game.

"Tickets go to the corporate companies, but unfortunatelysome people don''t come," he said.

"I was shocked because 8,000 tickets were sold at AlGharafa," he added, calling it "a big gap" between the numberof tickets sold and the little more than 3,500 fans actuallyat the stadium.

"We are making every effort to get bigger crowds,especially in the second round of games, I hope."

Of the game involving the World Cup hosts Sunday, wherethere was an official crowd of 28,339, leaving about 12,000seats vacant, he said: "We saw a lot of empty seats at thematch. Some people buy tickets, but they don''t come.

"In future we decided that each person is allowed to buy10 tickets only. This is one solution."

More than 400,000 tickets had been sold in total, theQatar Tribune quoted Al Rumaihi as saying. (AFP) SHN

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