Disability Access in Qatar Ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup
Cast your mind back to 2010 – a time before the London 2012 Games, and you might remember that Qatar won the fierce bid to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup. It was a watershed moment with the global tournament awarded to the Middle East for the first time in its 92-year history.
Since then there has been much publicity around Qatar’s readiness. Not just as a hosting nation in football terms, but as a host to the millions of visitors that will pass through its doors. Over 2.89 million tickets have been sold to the 64 matches taking place, set on a global stage. But what does this mean for the millions of fans hoping to attend with a disability?
As the leading mobility equipment provider for holiday rentals, we’ve undertaken all the research for you. As well as share details on FIFA’s accessibility tickets, we’ll uncover all the key information travellers with a disability need to know to make the most of their trip. From World Cup venue accessibility, to wheelchair hire considerations, and how to get around using public transport – here’s a helpful guide to visiting the Emirate State.
Qatar – A Disability-Friendly Destination?
The independent emirate of Qatar on the west coast of the Persian Gulf is home to some 2.88 million people. While it may not be instantly recognised for its disability focus, the country has made great strides to change this in recent years. Undertaking due diligence to get up to speed for the World Cup, the country has taken its hosting duties seriously. As such, there has been an uprising of new (or renovated) venues that feature state-of-the-art facilities to accommodate those with limited mobility or additional needs.
Notably, an Accessibility Forum held in Qatar in 2016, laid out its vision to ensure tournament facilities and public infrastructure were accessible for the disabled community in the run up to the World Cup. Some of these improvements include audio descriptive commentary in Arabic (available at all matches), and the introduction of sensory rooms for neuro-divergent community in a number of stadiums.
But for a country that is home to less than 1% of people with disabilities, let’s take a look at each individual stadium and Qatar as a whole for its credentials.
Qatar 2022 – A Quick Overview
As the first Arab state to ever host a World Cup, all eyes will be on Qatar when the FIFA World Cup takes place between 20 November and 18 December 2022. Unusually for a World Cup, the event has been scheduled for winter to avoid the scorching summertime heat.
Set into eight groups, there are 32 nations taking part as follows:
- Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
- Group B: England, Iran, USA, Wales
- Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
- Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
- Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
- Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
- Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
- Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
FIFA Accessibility Tickets
If you’re thinking of attending the World Cup with a disability, you’ll be pleased to know that an allocation of FIFA accessibility tickets have been set aside for those with additional needs. These are listed in five categories:
Wheelchair users: Specifically fans with wheelchairs and mobility scooters. FIFA are clear to point out that they will not provide any form of wheelchair, and users must bring their own to matches. They must also comply to their size requirements as follows: 80cm wide and 130cm length with a turning radius of 90cm and maximum turning width of 150cm, going no faster than 6km/h. If your existing model doesn’t fit these requirements, hiring a wheelchair might be an option. Note that Strive Mobility does not hire equipment in Qatar…yet!
Easy access amenity: Offering extra space, these seats are available for fans with limited mobility and/or have assistance dogs, but do not require wheelchair access. There is also minimal step access with these tickets.
Easy access standard ticket: For those with limited mobility but not wheelchair users, or fans that require minimal step access within close proximity to amenities such as accessible bathrooms.
Easy access extra-width: For adults requiring extra space, with a minimum BMI of 40 kg/m2.
Sensory rooms: Nearly half of the stadiums provide sensory rooms for guests who may have sensory access requirements and sensory processing disability.
To be eligible for wheelchair access tickets, international fans will need to submit a medical certificate or other medical proof used by their country of origin. For all other accessible tickets, a doctor’s note, medical certificate or professionally-endorsed official letter will suffice. FIFA accessibility tickets can be booked here.
Stadium Accessibility – How Friendly Are Stadiums?
When it comes to attending World Cup matches, there are eight different stadiums spread across five different cities in Qatar. Each of these have been built to the highest accessibility standards, and are said to present a “barrier-free” viewing experience.
In partnership with the Standard Accessibility Forum, site visits were undertaken to ensure a high-level of disability access. As a result, the following services are available at every single stadium:
- Accessible car parking
- Wheelchair-access bathrooms
- Hearing loop indictors for hearing aid users
- Lower counters at concession stands
- Dedicated staff for disabled fans
- Audio descriptive commentary available for blind and partially sighted fans (however, you must bring your own headphones)
- FIFA interpreting App – available on IOS an Google Play store
- A ‘FIFA Fan Festival’ and several entertainment attractions that will cater to people with a wide range of disabilities and needs
Whether you already have tickets to an event, or are planning your visit, here’s an overview of each of the eight stadiums:
- Lusail Stadium – Securing its place in history, the newly opened Lusail Stadium will host the FIFA World Cup final. This glistening 80,000 capacity venue in the heart of Doha is possibly the best-equipped for those with additional needs, plus its central location makes it by far the easiest of all stadiums to reach. In addition to all the above, the venue includes a ‘Sensory Room’ staffed by a team of professionals, especially for neuro-divergent fans. This space offers a quiet and controlled area for those with a wide range of needs, including children with autism.
- Al Bay Stadium – Located in Al Kohr, this is an impeccable stadium only opened last year. As such, it boasts state-of-the-art facilities including a sensory room. With the second highest capacity, it can house up to 60,000 fans.
- Al Janoub Stadium – Home to the local team in Al Wakrah, this stadium has a 40,000 fan capacity.
- Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium – Located in Al Rayyan, this multi-purpose stadium can host up to 40,000 fans. It’s worth noting that this Stadium is located on the edge of the desert, on the outskirts of Doha and one of the more challenging to visit.
- Khalifa International Stadium – Based in Doha, this internationally renowned stadium is the oldest of all, which opened 1976. An iconic venue in the Qatari skyline, up to 40,000 fans are welcome.
- Education City Stadium – This striking venue in north-west central Doha is a newly built construction and part of the World Cup legacy. Much has been invested into this property, including the addition of a ‘Sensory Room’. In all, it can accommodate up to 40,000 fans.
- Stadium 974 – Situated in the portside area of Doha, this 40,000-seater venue is designed with sustainability in mind, constructed from ship containers and modular steel.
- Al Thumama Stadium – This striking stadium is located in a busy Doha district, with room for up to 40,000 fans.
Getting to Qatar
It’s clear that Qatar has prepared well for the forthcoming World Cup with the right procedures in place to accommodate disabled fans. However, you might be wondering what it’s like getting to and from Qatar, as well as in and around the Emirate. Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
Flights to Qatar
There are a number of airlines that fly directly to Qatar, including: Qatar Airways, Oman Air, jetBlue, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Kuwait Airlines, British Airways, KLM and Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airlines. As ever, it’s worth shopping around for the best flight prices, times and services.
Qatar Airways, the national flag-carrier, is the state-owned airline and at time of going to print, return flights from the UK in November started from £721 return per person.
When booking flights with Qatar Airlines, it’s advisable to inform the airline of any special requests as soon as possible, and certainly within 48 hours of flying, using their Medical Information Form (MEDIF). Online you can visit ‘Mange Booking’ and make requests for special dietary requirements, stowage and escort services for the visually impaired. This is where you can also request wheelchair assistance – expect to complete several forms in the process. Wheelchair and mobility aids are carried free of charge. However, mobility scooter hire is a popular option down-route in case any damage is incurred to expensive items.
Although Qatar Airways permits up to two service dogs free of charge on certain routes, to accompany passengers with a disability, whether this is allowed is determined by each country of origin, transit and destination, and therefore important to first check directly with the carrier before booking flights.
For those who are hearing impaired, safety briefings and assistance are offered, including in-flight safety videos in English and Arabic. For those with visual impairments, Braille Safety Cards are provided on board too.
For many of us in the disabled community, the convenience of wheelchair hire or mobility scooter hire down route is far easier than travelling with heavy and expensive kit that runs the risk of damage. It’s worth planning your requirements in advance with a reliable and trusted provider.
Visiting Qatar Airport
Hamad International Airport is the main hub for arrivals and departures. Reassuringly, it has barrier-free access and dedicated facilities to support those who require additional assistance. The airport also ensures that special assistance travellers are usually first to board flights and off-boarded last for wellbeing and ease of travel. The airline can arrange a personal helper to support you during the airport transition for baggage, security, passport control, check-in and customs.
Transportation in Qatar
There are various affordable and efficient ways to get around Qatar as a tourist. In the run up to the World Cup measures have been put in place with disabled travellers a “core consideration”. Before we come on to these, it’s worth pointing out that car rental is still a great option especially for confident drivers (unsurprisingly fuel is cheap), but be prepared for tailgating and speeding from the locals.
Taxis in Doha
In Doha, Mowasalat is a government owned company that operates Karwa Taxis. These are metered and accept cash or card payments, and helpfully accommodate passengers with disabilities, with most drivers speaking good English. They also have priority drop-off points close to all the stadiums for the World Cup, beneficial for those with limited mobility. For ease, you can download the Karwa App for bookings. Alternatively, and slightly cheaper, Uber also operates in Doha, but does not come with the same host of benefits.
Efficient and affordable, Doha Metro is one of the quickest ways for zipping across the city. There are 37 stations and three lines (red, green and gold) served by the subway, with trips starting from as little as QR2, with a daily cap of QR6. If you require extra room, it’s worth upgrading to a Goldclub travel card, which offers larger more comfortable seats in a dedicated carriage for the journey for QR10. Stations are spacious and have fully-accessible platforms. Be prepared that these will be especially busy during the World Cup, as the most popular way to travel for the main bulk of tourists.
The local Karwa Bus service (also run by Mowasalat), is well equipped for those requiring additional travel support, although it’s one of the slower ways of getting about. There are elevators, space for wheelchair users, and guide dog allowances. However, experiences can be inconsistent. That’s because the MetroExpress (a ride-sharing feeder service that connects certain zones around metro and tram stations) uses vans instead of buses. For wheelchair users, only those with collapsible wheelchairs will be able to use the service. Tickets cost QR10 for two journeys within 24hrs, and can be purchased from vending machines at the airport, bus stations, and malls.
Hotel Accessibility in Qatar
As a popular business and growing leisure destination, Doha has several top hotels to choose from, many of which are accessible-friendly. As ever, it’s worth booking as far in advance as possible, and informing the hotel of your requirements to guarantee preferences such as low-floor bedrooms, or quiet rooms. You might also be able to book items such as disability hoist rental through the property itself.
Here’s three hotels to consider, for all types of budgets.
Top End – The Mandarin Oriental
The Mandarin Oriental is noted for its five-star service and A-list clientele. The hotel is well equipped with all amenities from spas to pools, excellent restaurants and in-room dining. There’s also plenty of signage, lifts and accessible bathrooms throughout. There are a number of bedrooms with wheelchair friendly facilities and the hotel also has disability aides, including a high-level toilet, emergency pull-chord and audible guidance facilities. If you’re attending the finals, or any game at The Lusail Stadium, there’s the added benefit of it being just 20-minutes away by car.
High End – Marriott Marquis
A recent winner at the Accessible Qatar Conference, the Marriott was recognised for its efforts to be an accessible property. There’s plenty of space and horizontal movement for wheelchairs within the hotel, with numerous large passenger lifts. The pool is easy to reach, although it doesn’t include a hoist.
Middle Range – Premier Inn, Doha Education City
Affordable, modern and clean, the new Premier Inn is ideally located for the National Convention Centre, and football games at Education City Stadium – just 10-minutes away by car. Boasting 219 air-conditioned bedrooms, there’s a number of family rooms and disabled access rooms available at no extra cost. With 24-hour reception available, a swimming pool and free parking, it’s a good option for your stay.
Budget – La Villa Hotel
For those on a budget, La Villa Hotel is a wheelchair accessible hotel that offers a standard no-frills experience in the bustling Al Najma Area. The property is equipped with an elevator, and offers a shuttle service from the airport. Along with 24-hr reception, and in-room dining, there is ample accessible parking on site. It’s worth noting that this is an adult-only hotel. Do check the services in advance, as you may need to pre-book equipment such as a disability hoist rental, with its limited facilities.
Other Disability-Friendly Places to Visit in Qatar
While in Qatar, it would be remiss not to attend some of the top tourist attractions and take in the sights. For those who aren’t familiar with the local area, although just over the water, Dubai is a six-hour car journey – or hour and ten minutes by plane.
Closer to Qatar, the Gulf Mall in Gharafa is a popular place for picking up gifts to bring home. The new shopping mall has a number of fashion outlets, restaurants and children’s entertainment on offer. With a wheelchair-accessible lift and entrance, it’s easy to get around.
Get under the skin of the city with a visit to Katara Cultural Village. This art and culture exchange is home to concert halls, theatres and galleries. The cutting-edge facilities include lots of accessible features throughout.
Another to add to the list is the Museum of Islamic Art, which has been named the most accessible tourist attraction for mobility impairment by the Accessible Qatar Initiative. Collections here are vast and impressive, including modern art housed in an architecturally stunning property. Not far from Stadium 974, the tourist attraction is located in the centre of Doha.
- This is an editorial feature which does not constitute professional advice. Please always seek a professional caregiver for professional medical advice
- This information was gathered through online research, including blogger reviews and the attraction’s websites, but we haven’t physically visited each venue.
Written on behalf of Strive Mobility