Qatar has undergone extensive changes to be ready to host the biggest football tournament, with better roads, better infrastructure, better connectivity and perhaps, most importantly, better accessibility, a Qatar Foundation (QF) professor has noted.
In an article published on QF website, Prof Josélia Neves, an associate dean for social engagement and access at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, said that Qatar’s promise to host the most accessible FIFA World Cup of all time is extremely welcome.
“I, like many others, believe that the mega sporting event will pave the way for a more accessible country, and that persons with disabilities will be among the most important beneficiaries of its legacy,” she said.
“Delivering an accessible tournament isn’t just about allocating accessible seats at the stadiums,” Neves added. “It’s about ensuring that each person’s journey is accessible from the moment they step off a plane to the moment they step back onto a plane.”
“It requires responding to the requirements and preferences of all persons, regardless of their (dis/in)abilities, and allowing them to navigate physical, digital and informational space with as few barriers as possible,” the professor explained.
According to Neves, to achieve this, multiple teams have dedicated their time and knowledge to auditing venues and implementing solutions that will allow all fans to sit side-by-side in equitable circumstances.
”The last mile has been checked, public transport has passed the test, and hospitality, entertainment and cultural venues have also considered meeting their visitors’ specific needs,” she continued.
Neves further highlighted that three of the eight World Cup stadiums in Qatar, including Education City Stadium, will host sensory rooms for fans with cognitive disabilities.
“These sensory rooms are a tangible demonstration of Qatar’s commitment to hosting an accessible tournament,” the academic added. “Alongside the sensory rooms, specialised accessibility volunteers – trained by the QF – will be present on-ground to support people with accessibility needs.”
“It is hoped that beyond the World Cup, these sensory rooms will set a new standard and that similar spaces will be set up in other venues, such as malls, cultural spaces, hospitals, and more importantly, schools,” Neves said.
The professor noted that true efforts have been made to improve accessibility for persons with disability.
“However, there will still be situations in which people will face difficulties, simply because a link in the chain may be faulty,” she noted. “The venue itself may be accessible, but if the paving that leads to it is uneven, side curbs have no ramp, or if signposting is not clear, people may never get to enter the given space to enjoy the experience that has been created for them.”
“And barriers may come in all shapes and forms, going unnoticed even to the trained eye, simply because no solution will ever fit all,” Neves continued. “This realisation is humbling and allows us to question even what is created for the benefit of particular groups of persons.”
“Just the impact of preparing to host an accessible tournament has been huge! Persons with disabilities have become more visible and more active,” she added. “They have been called upon to support the national effort. They have secured their right to sit among fans, to support their team, while enjoying accommodations that make it possible for them to follow the events to their own abilities,”
Neves feels that the legacy of the FIFA World Cup will be enormous, both to persons with and without disabilities.
“There will forever be a ‘before and after’ Qatar 2022,” she stressed. “The country has changed in every way possible, and this includes the way persons with disability are perceived and respected, the (thoughtful) language that is used to address them, the way built environments are taking them into consideration, and how the services that are now provided to ‘all’ are considerate of physical, sensory, intellectual and emotional differences.”
“Health, education, sports and culture are slowly becoming more accessible to families and individuals,” Neves stated. “The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 may be the end of a long national journey, but in what concerns inclusion, it is the beginning of a new era for Qatar.”
Related Story