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SPORTS UPDATE

Qatar 2022: Fans to get Saudi multiple-entry visas

Saudi Arabia will offer multiple-entry visas to fans at the Qatar World Cup, officials said on Thursday, as neighbouring Gulf countries look to reap benefits from the competition.

People with a Hayya Card, which is reserved for ticket-holders and used to access Qatar during the tournament, will be able to apply for the electronic visas, the foreign ministry said.

The move comes as Qatar, which has a population of 2.8 million, tries to accommodate an expected 1.2 million visitors during the November 20-December 18 World Cup, and as Saudi Arabia ramps up efforts to attract tourists.

“Holders of the visa will be able to enter and exit the Kingdom several times during the validity of their visa,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Deeply conservative Saudi Arabia largely cut itself off from visitors for decades until it started issuing tourist visas in 2019, part of the attempt to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

The Gulf power shares a land border with gas-rich Qatar, which is hosting the first World Cup in the Middle East and the first held in the winter months.

The Saudi visas will be in effect 10 days before the start of the World Cup and will be valid for 60 days.

Given the pressure on accommodation in Qatar, Saudia, Kuwait Airways, flydubai, and Oman Air will put on more than 160 daily shuttle flights to bring fans on day trips for matches.

Qatari officials say more than 20,000 fans could arrive each day on shuttle flights from Gulf countries, some of which are offering special hotel packages.

Large numbers of Saudis will also flood across the border. Saudi Arabia’s Group C clash with Lionel Messi’s Argentina is one of the most in-demand games, World Cup CEO Nasser al-Khater told the official Qatar News Agency in a Twitter interview late on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt cut ties with Doha in June 2017, accusing it of being close to Iran and supporting extremist groups, accusations which Qatar denied. The diplomatic, trade, and transport blockade was only lifted in January 2021.

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