World Cup conversations: What sportspeople, migrant workers, transport staff in Qatar are saying

With the European leagues now on break until Christmas, all eyes are naturally on Qatar, where the World Cup will kick off on Sunday. Over a decade since it won the bid to host the tournament, the Gulf nation, home to approximately three million people, has been transforming its infrastructure -- from a new tram line to new stadiums, hotels and roads -- in anticipation of this massive event that is unprecedented in the Arab world. It's been an exciting time for the Qataris and the migrant community that makes up 90% of the country's population.

But this transformation has also invited controversy, criticism and scrutiny, primarily around workers' rights and the conditions under which tens of thousands of migrant laborers built the stadiums, roads and facilities that have made Qatar's vision into reality. Reports show that low-income migrant workers, mostly from Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, fight to receive their wages, work in extreme weather conditions and lack proper centers to report abuses and complaints where they can make sure their rights are not being violated. Among other appeals, Australia, set to compete at the tournament, called for Qatar to change its laws and treatment toward the LGBTQ+ community, with same-sex relationships being illegal in the country.

The World Cup has also affected participation in soccer among the general public, particularly women. Although there are hurdles to making the game more accessible and inclusive in Qatar, advocates, players and coaches are being heard for the next generation of Qatari women to have more opportunities in the game, which depends on investment in pitches, training sites and a development pathway for them to become professionals.

Along the way to 2022, Qatar's government agencies and local organizations are making reforms and assurances to address these matters. To get a deeper understanding of these issues, we spoke to people from different backgrounds who have lived and worked in Qatar about their experiences in the country, what they think of the World Cup's impact and how soccer could transform the nation and people living there, on and off the pitch.

Each person brings a unique perspective: the coaches and players discuss the legacy of the World Cup on the host nation, the female players point to the strides being made in women's soccer, the migrant workers explain the discrepancy between working conditions at FIFA and non-FIFA projects and the tram manager expresses concern at how the country will manage such an influx of people.

Dwana Khalifa, player for Qatar women's national team

As a girl born and raised in Qatar, Dwana Khalifa did not have as many opportunities and spaces to play as she'd have liked, and as a professional player and coach, she's working to change that.

The major challenges are more private, female-only spaces for players in Doha, which would foster participation in the sport. In terms of the soccer ecosystem, a proper pathway starting from academy for women to play professionally into the national team is also lacking. It's also difficult for women who have requirements around clothing and privacy to find same-sex training sites where they can play and balance their values. There is also the fact that women's soccer in a professional and public setting is still new in the country. The women's national team was officially founded in 2010, and the women's league shortly after in 2012, both of which were missing during Khalifa's youth.

"This was in 1999, 2000, and there was no place for me as a girl to play football outside of school," Khalifa said. "And there was no national team back then. So I played football as a hobby in the street with the guys, and in 2009 I saw there was a video of the Qatar women's national team and I was like 'Wow, I must try it!' But I didn't know how to contact them."
One lucky day, as Khalifa was playing in the neighborhood, the women's national team coach was there. "She saw me and came to me and said she'd love to have me try out for the team," Khalifa said. "I wanted that my whole life and that's how it started."

Khalifa, like others in the Qatari soccer community, has seen the culture around the sport transform.

"There is a big change in how society sees females who play football, because before it was like, if you want to play football, you have to play on a field that has no men there, it was a closed field," she said. "But now, more parents are like, my daughter wants to play football, let's take her to an academy so she can pursue her dream." To foster the growth of the sport across genders, there are now more options and support for women to play in open spaces, as well as private, female-only fields if needed. The return of the professional league is also a catalyst.

After a two-year hiatus, the Qatar women's soccer league returned in 2021 featuring six professional teams, with Al-Khor winning the championship. Alongside the league, there are local tournaments, which reflects the growing participation of women in the sport. However, because these games are not televised, there is a lack of exposure to the general public.

In terms of what's next, Khalifa wants to coach and build a more inclusive process for the next generation. "I'm pursuing coaching and opening a new academy," she said. "I want to make all the little girls have what I couldn't have. I want the next generation of Qatari women players to compete nationally."

Read the full article here 
Author: SherShah Atif

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