World Autism Awareness Day: Providing a safe space to watch football
The ability to enjoy a match in a fun and exciting environment is one of the many pleasures for football fans. Yet, for people with cognitive disabilities, experiencing games and the stadium atmosphere can pose certain challenges.
With the first FIFA World Cup™ in the Middle East and Arab world set to take place in less than two years, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy's (SC) initiative to ensure the tournament is accessible to all fans, regardless of their disability, has seen the creation of sensory rooms in stadium sky boxes. Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, qatar2022.qa takes a closer look at this important project.
Sensory rooms provide a safe space for fans with neurobehavioural needs to retreat to during a match and enjoy proceedings in a space that is fitted with equipment designed to engage the senses, such as controlled lighting, interactive projections and different toys.
First piloted during the 2017 Amir Cup final at Khalifa International Stadium, the project was also delivered successfully at Al Janoub Stadium for the 2019 Amir Cup final and most recently at Education City Stadium for the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020™ final between Bayern Munich and Tigres UANL.
During those match days, fans with neurobehavioural needs and their families were able to access the sensory room prior to, during and after the match, allowing them extra time to acclimatise to their new surroundings and avoid crowds when entering and leaving the stadium. The fans, who were mostly children, were able to enjoy an interactive projector, soft toys and beanbags in a supervised environment while having the opportunity to step out into the stadium and enjoy the football from a row of dedicated seats. This modified environment created an inviting and stimulating internal atmosphere adjacent to the stands where users of the room could interact with the crowd at their own pace.
“Our efforts with the sensory rooms have provided valuable feedback to our aims of providing a safe space for fans with cognitive disabilities in our stadiums,” said Samantha Sifah, the SC’s Head of Fan Engagement. “We are thankful to our local service providers in the Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, Qatar Foundation’s Renad and Awsaj academies and the Ontario Centre for Special Needs for their partnership in making the sensory room initiative a reality.
“Football is more popular than ever in Qatar and fans who invest in their club should be able to watch their favourite team play, with equal opportunity to attend, participate and contribute to the atmosphere. By designing special services like stadium sensory rooms, our goal of making football accessible to all is on course to being fulfilled for next year’s World Cup and beyond.”
Future events such as the upcoming FIFA Arab Cup in December will provide further opportunities for the SC to develop the sensory room initiative and ensure that all fans can look forward to experiencing football’s showpiece event when it takes place in Qatar in 2022.