From 14th June to 15th July 2018, Russia, a country nestling between Europe and Asia, will pulsate with the thrills and frills of the biggest football tournament globally, the 23rd FIFA World Cup. Interestingly, thirty-two teams with their technical crew, cheerleaders, football enthusiasts, country delegates, media personnel, and independent observers from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean will be using air transportation, the fastest and safest means of transportation, to access Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the two major host cities of the tournament.
Regarding the last FIFA World Cup event held in Brazil in 2014, the world football apex body says: “280,000 kilometres were flown by the teams during the tournament – the equivalent of seven laps around the world.” The event had total attendance of around 1 billion people. The figures are expected to rise this year. In fact, as at mid March, FIFA already allocated 1,303,616 tickets to potential attendees, a sizeable portion of whom are going to fly into Russia.
Due to the essence of air transport to the success of the FIFA World Cup, the apex football body usually has flight partners for easy movement of participants. Teams, officials and spectators often fly to different stadia in different cities, even within the host country. This year, Qatar Airways features prominently on FIFA’s list of partners on display on its website.
Significantly, five teams from Africa will be participating in Russia 2018. Like other teams from around the globe, team Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal alongside their supporters and fans will be journeying from Africa to Russia using air transport. These travels could present opportunities for African airlines. Royal Air Maroc is a major African airline that routinely flies to Moscow and which is likely to fly the Casablanca boys and other World Cup passengers from North Africa.
Given that Russia is not a common destination for African carriers, contingents and sports enthusiasts from Africa could be attending the event in Russia on special flights on African airlines. In the main, it is expected that teams from Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Senegal would engage the charter services of their local airlines. This would allow these African airlines partake in the largesse of the World Cup travels, alongside other global airlines with direct flights to Russia such as Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Air France, Qatar and British Airways, among others.
Since the inception of the FIFA World Cup eighty-eight years ago, the aviation industry has been a great spine of support for the quadrennial sporting event as it enables teams and lovers of the game to get to the host venues quickly and safely. Also, as part of the build-up to each edition of FIFA World Cup since 2006, the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, which is a rare opportunity for fans in up to 100 cities in the world to see the original Trophy up close and have their experience captured with a photograph, has been largely made possible riding on air transportation.
Aside from the glory of the game, the FIFA World Cup is famous for uniting nations across the globe as teams meet on the soil of the host country and contest over the round leather. Also, the tournament has been a veritable avenue to showcase the tourism potentials of host and perhaps neighbouring countries to the visiting publics. The tournament offers considerable gains to the aviation industry, no doubt. But good positioning is important for African airlines to gain from World Cup-induced traffic.