A footballing experience for all, at Qatar 2022
First 'sensory room' installed at 2022 World Cup venue, Khalifa International Stadium
Room designed to help those with cognitive and learning disabilities
"It’s about accepting different people"
The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) is “building history” as it strives towards making the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ the most accessible sporting event in history, according to a prominent activist.
Mariam Ali Al Rashdi, Founder and CEO of the Doha-based Ontario Center for Special Education (OCSE), dedicates her life to promoting understanding and providing equal opportunities to all.
During the recent Accessibility Forum in Doha she explained how her organisation worked alongside the SC to install a ‘sensory room’ at the Khalifa International Stadium, in order to deliver something truly groundbreaking for the World Cup.
“Qatar is building history,” Al Rashdi said. “It is beyond a room with bubble tubs. It has never happened in the history of the World Cup that they have a room for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
“It’s very easy for us to get engineers to design those ramps for wheelchair access; it’s easy to have lights and devices to help people that are visually impaired or cannot hear – but it’s unheard of that people who have cognitive and learning disabilities have somewhere like this to visit within a stadium.”
The room – gifted by the OCSE to the SC – offers a ‘safe haven’ for people with disabilities to escape the sometimes overwhelming sensory overload a football stadium can create. It offers noise cancellation, soft furnishings, mood lighting, relaxing music and brightly coloured sensory toys and equipment.
A place of acceptance All are designed to manage a person's anxiety and allow them to watch football matches in a welcoming, calming and inclusive environment.
“With conditions such as autism we are not always able to know whether they understand what has gone on, including who has won and who has lost,” said Al Rashdi. “But that doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that they were there, and they were accepted. It’s beyond soft furnishings and calming music, it’s about what it comes to symbolise – it’s about accepting different people.”
As well as what has become her life’s work, Al Rashdi also has a very personal reason to get behind the cause of making her country’s World Cup the most accessible mega-event there has ever been.
“I am the mother of an 18-year-old son who has been diagnosed with autism,” she said. “He came to the sensory room for the opening of Khalifa International Stadium in May and he was so happy. But also for the adults, it was a joyous moment. People were able to see that we can be different, and we can be accepted as one. We all want to be part of this event and it was a moment of sincere pride to be there on such an occasion.”
Such was its success and significance, Al Rashdi now hopes the offering will be incorporated into the other Qatar 2022 stadiums.
“I look into the future very positively, and it makes me very proud."