BERLIN, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The Qatar World Cup was always going to be unique in several ways but one aspect FIFA would not have welcomed is that fans the world over are opting not to attend a tournament one supporter group said "doesn't make fans dream".
There are many factors involved, which individually might have been minor deterrents but, piled together, have made supporters who routinely follow their teams at huge expense decide to give this one a miss.
The shift from its usual summer holiday slot in June/July to the northern hemisphere winter, ending only a week before Christmas, because of high temperatures in the desert state has had a significant impact.
Strict entry requirements, sky-high high accommodation prices and concerns over Qatar's human rights and LGBTQ+ record have also dampened enthusiasm for the Nov. 20-Dec. 18 tournament.
Alcohol restrictions and the high cost of drinks, the fact that many of Doha's hotels won't be screening games due to licensing costs, and a lack of alternative entertainment in a city that has never really geared up for tourists have also convinced fans they will have more fun watching at home.
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It is not just the world-weary "old hands" staying away either.
Wales are playing in their first World Cup since 1958 but Paul Corkrey of the Football Supporters' Association Cymru said: "We took 50,000 to the 2016 Euros in France so the response has been muted mainly because of the location and time of year it is being played,"
"I would expect 3,000 fans to actually travel from Wales, though there will be expats as well from the region."
Qatar, where foreigners make up the majority of the 2.9 million population, has come under severe scrutiny over its treatment of migrant workers.
"Qatar just doesn't have the best human rights efforts for things that I believe are important," Matthew Moulden, secretary of the Fort Worth, Texas, chapter of U.S. soccer supporters group American Outlaws told Reuters.
"I don't know that I would want to support that," added Moulden who is not travelling to the tournament.
Many fans were surprised by the choice of energy-rich Qatar as host, despite lacking football tradition and a climate that forced a fundamental change in the sport's calendar with domestic leagues interrupted.
"There are people who won't go because Qatar is not a football country," said Anne Costes, vice-president of the Irresistibles Francais, the main French team supporters' group.
"Doha doesn't necessarily make you want to go. It doesn't attract. It doesn't make fans dream."
For all the concerns, Qatar is still expecting an unprecedented 1.2 million visitors during the tournament, representing more than a third of the Gulf Arab state's population of about 3 million.
But with limited accommodation options and entertainment choices, many foreign fans have opted to stay in nearby Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and fly in and out of Doha on match day.
That is the approach of Germany's official fan group, who have reserved 300 places in a four-star hotel in Dubai.
They declined to say how many were travelling but even including all the "unattached fans", numbers look certain to be dwarfed by the estimated 62,000 Germans who bought tickets for 2018 in Russia.
Package prices for attending all three group matches range from 2,609 euros to 3,849 euros and because of the high costs, some supporters are being subsidised by their countries.
"We have drawn up a list of 300, fully supported by the State of Senegal to support the national team," said the country's sports minister Yankhoba Diatara.
Other fans are concerned about the entertainment options.
"There isn't a great deal to do in Doha," Ashley Brown of the England's Football Supporters' Association told Reuters.
"It's not like visiting a huge city like a Moscow or London. There isn't a variety of theatres, restaurants, bars, cafes."
"Overall, I think it will probably be not as good experience as fans are used to."
Argentina fans might have concerns but for many they are trumped by the prospect of witnessing Lionel Messi's final crack at winning the sport's ultimate prize.
"I know a lot of people who have given up on attending mainly because of the accommodation costs," Karina Medina, a member of the supporter group 'Hinchas Argentinos', told Reuters. "But a lot of people will go no matter what - because of Messi."
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