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Soccer-mad Canadians dig deep to see the World Cup Add to ...

How this Winnipeg travel company is making a World Cup play (The Globe and Mail)

Sherri Wright-Schwietz isn’t really a soccer fan. But she says her husband Roland Schwietz, a German national who works in the oil business, is an avid one. So avid, in fact, that back in 2006, he left her in Calgary with their two-week-old first-born to head off to that year’s World Cup, held in his homeland. And she was okay with that.

Now, the couple are headed to Brazil, to see three World Cup matches in the country where many believe the “beautiful game” has been perfected. It’s a soccer fan’s dream trip, a trip that a surprisingly large number of Canadians have also decided to make.

But as Ms. Wright-Schwietz and others have discovered: It’s not going to be cheap.

Some Brazilian hotels near World Cup venues are charging five or 10 times their normal rates – rates that were not cheap to begin with. Tickets to the games themselves, which cost hundreds of dollars when bought from organizers, can soar into the thousands of dollars when offered by scalpers.

The spike in prices for Brazilian hotel rooms, glasses of beer and restaurant meals is already being blamed by some analysts for the country’s failure to keep its inflation rate under its targeted 6 per cent.

Call it soccerflation.

The Calgary couple’s 10-day vacation to Brazil’s coastal city of Recife took a year to plan and is costing them at least $15,000. And they say it was only after an exhaustive search, with the help of contacts Mr. Schwietz made working in Brazil 12 years ago, that they could find adequate hotels at reasonable prices.

“The stuff that we were getting off the Internet was ridiculous,” Ms. Wright-Schwietz said, adding that one “beautiful” resort that cost them $250 (U.S.) a night 12 years ago was asking $5,000 a night for accommodations during the World Cup.

“That’s how crazy the prices have inflated.”

But despite concerns about gouging, problems getting visas and other more worrying reports of gang violence, political protests and unfinished stadiums and airports, Canadians are flocking to the world’s premier sporting event in droves. Without a national team in the tournament – Canada’s 110th-ranked squad failed to qualify after an 8-1 loss to Honduras last year – Canadians have bought more than 29,000 tickets to World Cup matches, organizers say.

That ranks Canada 11th in terms of ticket sales, just outside the top 10, which is full of countries with teams on the pitch. Taking population into account, Canadians have bought proportionally more World Cup tickets than Americans, Germans, French or Mexicans.

Even considering the growth of soccer’s popularity in Canada, it’s an astonishing statistic. Part of the reason has to be Canada’s multicultural makeup, with many Canadians cheering for the team from the nation of their birth or of their parents’ birth.

But soccer officials say the love of the game in Canada goes beyond old country loyalties, and that Canada was also the top non-competing nation in attendance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“I think we just love to see great football being played,” said Peter Montopoli, the general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association who is head organizer of next year’s women’s World Cup and behind efforts to bring the men’s World Cup to Canada in 2026. “And we’ll pay to go see that.”

And paying is what Canadians who are headed to Brazil are prepared to do. Airfare alone can run $2,000 or more. Air Canada says its cheaper seats are selling out fast, even though it has added seven additional daily return flights to Sao Paolo for the duration of the tournament. It normally schedules just one Boeing 767 a day.

According to interviews with travellers and travel agents, overall budgets for World Cup pilgrimages to Brazil range from about $4,000 per person for bare-bones student-style trips, to about $15,000 for longer trips with better hotels and tickets to more desirable games. Beyond that price, specialized luxury travel outfits can offer all sorts of amenities – surfing lessons on a Rio de Janeiro beach, a car and driver, dinner reservations at fine restaurants, a five-star villa, box seats to the final.

Many budget-conscious World Cup travellers braved FIFA’s Web-based lottery system months ago to get hold of tickets that start around $90 (U.S.) but run up to $990 for the final. Most tickets for early games bought by fans who spoke with The Globe are in the $175 range. Many travellers are also using Web-based services such as Airbnb.com to rent private apartments from Brazilians in order to avoid runaway hotel rates.

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