To Get the Best Perks at the World Cup, You Have to Be a V.V.I.P.

AL KHOR, Qatar – With a haughty aura of exclusivity, the red-carpeted, velvet-lined VIP entrance at Al Bayt Stadium seems designed to inspire the utmost fear and envy. As the regular fans gathered through their gates for Friday’s UK vs USA match, VIPs were greeted by an eerie figure dressed as some sort of antelope, covered from head to toe in glittering golden squares.

(When asked about its identity, the character who was not supposed to speak muttered under his breath: “Oryx.”)

But this is the Qatar World Cup, where there’s something even better than the VIP entrance: the VVIP entrance.

Not that it is available, or even fully visible to you. Bordered by barricades and cut off from the regular road system, Al Bayt’s VIP entrance is a wide avenue whose most important fans, starting with the emir of Qatar, who arrived by helicopter with an entourage and then hopped into a Mercedes, which was taken directly inside. their special area in the stadium. That way, they’re never forced to interact or even take up the same communal space as regular fans.

Every sports venue has a tiered luxury system – owners’ boxes, business lounges, disabled lifts, ridiculously expensive chairs, the chair was even ridiculously more expensive. But at this year’s World Cup, the convergence of two entities brimming with luxury and entitlement — Qatar, where all power and privilege comes from the emir, and FIFA, football’s global governing body , with its patronage network and huge fortune — providing a powerful reminder that there is always a rarer degree of exclusivity.

The main difference between luxury and non-luxury seats at this year’s World Cup is alcohol. In a shock to fans (and to Budweiser, the tournament’s official beer since 1986), Qatar reversed itself and decreed just before the event began that beer sales could be Alcohol (any alcohol, really) will be banned. in and around stadiums.

But that doesn’t affect the free flow of beer — or free champagne, Scotch, gin, whiskey, wine, and other drinks — for occasional fans in the VIP area, VVIP and hotel. The rules, it seems, do not apply to them.

For instance, at the $3,000 a-seat lounge in Al Bayt during the USA’s game against England, the bar’s menu included Taittinger Champagne, 12-year-old Chivas Regal whiskey, Martell VSOP brandy and tequila. Jose Cuervo 1800.

“If you want to drink, you can’t drink in stadiums,” said Keemya Najmi, who is from Los Angeles with her family. So this is just a lot more comfortable.

Add to that comfort: a dedicated check-in desk staffed by smiling hosts handing out special tickets and small gift bags; a welcome drink mixed with coriander stuns the system; table decorated with nuts, dates, popcorn and chips; endless sumptuous buffets that include dishes like slow-cooked lamb shoulder and marinated tuna steak, plus a sculpture area and a selection of six desserts; and a band that performed cross-cultural fan favorites like “Sweet Caroline.”

In all, there are five floors According to Match Hospitality, a FIFA partner that runs those divisions, about “hospitality” in stadiums, starting with $950 stadium seats serving street food, along with wine and beer. The most high-end are the private suites that cost around $5,000 per person and offer six-course meals prepared by private chefs, cocktails served by sommeliers and expert bartenders, and the promise of “showing up for the show.” as guests” of unnamed celebrities.

The most exclusive set is pearl lounge, just above the halfway line at Lusail Stadium, which offers each guest a “special anniversary gift”. According to one person who has been in it, there is also a suite in Al Bayt that, for some reason, boasts a retractable bed and a bathroom equipped with a shower.

The World Cup generated about $800 million in revenue from the sale of hotel seats — a record in the sports industry, said a Match Hospitality spokesperson. But many of those guests paid for the privilege, which doesn’t seem like VIPs (or VVIP’s).

The classification of VIP-ness has been a contentious issue among those on the other side of the velvet rope. There are many different theories. “VIPs are sponsors,” a woman, who is supposed to work for one of the sponsors herself, declared in the hotel guest room, not the VIP suite. (She was not authorized to speak to the press and asked not to use her name.)

No, said a Saudi journalist in the stands, who also asked not to use his name. “VIPs usually come from the business and banking sectors,” he said. “The VVIPs are the emir and the people around him – his family, his father – and foreign officials.” Those probably included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who sat near the emir during the opening match, as well as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who were spotted in a luxury sedan at the match. in U.S.A.

There is a consensus that top FIFA officials, such as President Gianni Infantino, are VIPs, but other FIFA personnel and those close to FIFA are only VIPs.

Meanwhile, a Qatari involved in the logistics of the tournament, who did not want to speak on the record because he was not authorized, said that sometimes there are too many VIPs at Qatar events. In that case, so many people ended up achieving VVIP status that the organizers were forced to create a whole new level: VVVIP, the human equivalent of a seven-star hotel.

With all this VIP inflation, is it any wonder travelers are suffering from status anxiety?

On a recent morning at the posh Fairmont Doha, which attracts former soccer stars, wealthy businessmen and FIFA bigwigs throughout the tournament, officials were pacing around ahead of the first game. during the day. A cattle security guard was on hand to repel unwanted guests.

A member of the FIFA Council, the organization’s governing body, paced the marble floor of the lobby, a cell phone clamped to her right cheek. She’s telling the person on the other end of the line how many (free) tickets she needs for each game. Another FIFA function is distributing purchased tickets to hotel guests.

The time to leave the field for the stadium was near, and two women in navy blazers appeared, holding oars to guide the guests to follow them — one for “FIFA VIPs”, the other the rest is for “FIFA VVIPs”

A few minutes later, a well-dressed couple received tickets. The woman peeked inside. News is bad. “VIP only,” she whispered.

On the driveway to the house, the VVIPs were led to a convoy of black SUVs that would drive them to the match. VIPs must take the bus.

Tariq Panja contribution report.


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