In order to deliver the most accessible FIFA World Cup in tournament history, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) has developed "groundbreaking" sensory rooms at tournament venues – two of which are already operational.
Equipped to cater to individuals with cognitive disabilities and sensory impairments, the rooms combine a range of stimuli to help attendees feel comfortable during lively football matches by engaging their senses and providing them a safe space to retreat to. The rooms feature noise-cancellation headphones, interactive projections, soft furnishing, mood lighting, relaxing music and brightly coloured sensory toys.
Delivered in partnership with the Ontario Centre for Special Education, Qatar's first stadium-based sensory room was inaugurated at Khalifa International Stadium during the Amir Cup final in 2017. Another sensory room has since been delivered at Al Janoub Stadium, which opened earlier this year.
Last week, pupils from Renad Academy, a school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, along with their parents, were invited to watch the Arabian Gulf Cup match between Qatar and Yemen in the comfort of the room. During the match, children were visited by Sodeifi – the official mascot of the tournament.
With her daughter Al Jazi playing nearby with the sensory equipment, the school's Parent-Teacher Association president, Aisha al-Amari, said: "The environment is calming. The access to stadium seats is safe, meaning Al Jazi can go out there on her own. She can go outside if she wants to – but if she wants some peace and quiet, she can come inside."
Al-Amari added, "I plan on attending World Cup matches. To be able to know that I could bring her along with me – that is just comforting. I don't have to worry about where I'm going to leave her or how she's going to act or react."
The school's outreach co-ordinator, Niall C Lawlor, said: "It's catering to the needs of all: parents, family and the child. Even for me, it has a warm and calming effect, and obviously for the kids as well.
"They're putting down the barriers of the stigma associated with children with autism. Most parents think, 'if I bring my child, will they be accepted?'. When they know that there's a designated area to suit their needs, it brings peace of mind to them."
The SC and its stakeholders are "committed to prioritising accessibility throughout every aspect of the FIFA World Cup", according to a report on sc.qa. In 2022, the SC will deliver a series of services specifically designed to cater for people with disabilities, including accessible parking and drop-off points, accessible signage, toilets, refreshments and amenity areas – all enabling them to enjoy the full FIFA World Cup experience.
Mead al-Emadi, the SC's Community Engagement manager, said: "We have always said that Qatar's World Cup is a World Cup for all. It is our ambition to ensure that football can be enjoyed by everyone. These sensory rooms are proof of the strides Qatar is making to ensure inclusivity of all people in the most popular game in the country.
"These sensory rooms are not only for the children who visit them, but also for their families. It gives us great pleasure knowing that the families of these children are not left out but can watch a game knowing that their child is having a safe and enjoyable experience. We are proud to see that the sensory rooms are being used ahead of 2022."