Exchange rate mechanism

No need to abandon hope just yet if you missed out in the World Cup ticket lottery, as long as you’re rich enough or gullible enough to buy your passport to Germany online. Ian Plenderleith reports

While millions of fans have faced disappointment in their applications to FIFA for World Cup tickets, there are some organisations that seem to be swimming in excess. If you’ve money to light cigars with, you might just make it to Germany after all.

“Germany 2006 will be a place where people from all around the world will be welcomed by friends,” gushes Euroteam , a Scandinavia-based website. “The tournament is being held on the finest stage in the world, one whose symbolism far transcends the boundaries of sport.” Judging by their ticket prices, it’s also a chance to far transcend the boundaries of decency and jump into the realm of naked profiteering.

For England v Trinidad & Tobago in Nuremberg, you can buy, for €1,390 (£950), the Prestige Package Gold, including “champagne reception, three-course menu, wine/beer, hospitality guides and more”. If you’d prefer one of the cheaper options, a mere €790 will land you a category three seat. For Mexico v Angola, the cheapest deal on offer here is €440, while Tunisia v Saudi Arabia is an absolute steal at €340. A two-match package for a semi-final and the final start at a mere €3,600, heading up to the range of Togo’s GDP for the Prestige Package.

Aimed at businessmen, not fans, the site points up the “invaluable advantage to be able to offer your employees and business connections the chance to attend the most popular and ‘sold-out’ arrangements”. So, console yourself this summer – when you sit watching the tournament from your armchair while suit-clad prats with no interest in football quaff champagne in the stadium – in the knowledge that you were simply not privileged enough to participate in this year’s major football “arrangement”.

Still, at least you won’t have lined the pockets of parasites, though Euroteam would doubtless refute such a label. Responding to an email inquiring how they got hold of so many tickets, the company claimed to buy them “from official sources, meaning football federations, sponsors etc” and that they are “paying a lot more than face value”. Which means both they and their sources are acting in blatant contravention of FIFA’s regulations, which say that if a ticket is resold “such ticket shall be automatically rendered invalid”.

What do FIFA make of this? Their media department refuses phone interviews, insisting that journalists send questions by email. So when you ask them how Euroteam can get away with open price-gouging, they can respond anonymously, and in vague bureaucratic language: “FIFA and the Local Organising Committee are working together to tackle illicit ticketing promotions or sales in an effort to uphold the non-transfer provisions that are ultimately in place for the benefit of the fans.” The only place to buy World Cup tickets “is our official website”.

Anyone buying tickets “by way of an illicit ticket promotion or sale” could be refused entry to or expelled from the stadium. But what about acting to close down websites such as Euroteam? And where and how does FIFA believe such sites obtain all their tickets? FIFA ignored both questions, twice.

The governing body was supposed to launch its own exchange for fans wanting to transfer tickets at cost price sometime after the New Year, but by the last week of February there was still no evidence of it at FIFA’s World Cup website . Alternatively, there are sites such as ticketchange , which operates (in Dutch and English) “just like an ordinary message board in the supermarket”, but has many more tickets ‘wanted’ than on offer, and any offer worded, “If England makes it to the QF, I can arrange tickets by my work (WC sponsor)” is clearly to be avoided.

Meanwhile, World Cup Ticket Swap claims it will “not get involved in the exchange of money or tickets, we simply ask for 10 Euro per ticket for your relevant listing”. But don’t book your flight yet – as WSC went to press the site was still “coming soon, stay tuned”.

In a similar spirit, , a site “developed as a simple way for people who want to buy tickets to buy them from people who want to sell tickets”, buyers are warned on how to avoid scam artists (seemingly based in Romania and Milan, and they always ask for money via Western Union), and by charging an annual £5 fee to sellers, the site owners aren’t trying too overtly to cash in.

Still, a more scrupulous site doesn’t necessarily mean more scrupulous sellers. There’s a blacklist to avoid, while the site tells you to pull out if you have the slightest of doubts about a deal’s legitimacy. You can post an ad requesting tickets to buy or exchange, and most prices are unspecified, with sellers asking for “offers” rather than concrete amounts, or posting prices “on request”. Non-cash deals, such as a fan wanting to swap three Portugal v Angola tickets for three Portugal v Iran, come closest to the ethic of a non-profit deal.

Finally, there’s good old eBay , where tickets have been going for depressingly Wild West prices. For example: Iran v Portugal, two for £375; Holland v Serbia, two for $810 (£460); or England v Sweden, two for $1,925.

And finally, a seller in Canada, who offers two tickets for the quarter-final in Gelsenkirchen, says: “Let’s take back our game and get the matches we want to see instead of being forced to pay thousands of dollars.” Winning bid: $2,025.

From WSC 230 April 2006. What was happening this month