Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup

For me as a woman on my own, it feels safer without alcohol in the stadiums. I just don’t like it when everybody is drunk. Bete Basica has travelled from Sao Paulo to Qatar to support Brazil at the Football World Cup. She’s come to Souq Waqif the central marketplace in Doha to buy some souvenirs before she heads home.

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Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup
Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup

A huge football fan, Ms Basica writes about the game and has recently taken a football management course. She has travelled on her own for the tournament, and fondly remembers the magical time in her home country during the 2014 Football World Cup it hosted. Speaking to the BBC, Ms Basica says the experience is very different in Qatar.

“Sometimes I’m the only woman in the metro, she says. “I get many looks but that’s it.

You read many things about the region, that it’s very dangerous for women. But I feel respected by everyone, and I had no problem being here on my own. The decision to hold a Football World Cup in Qatar has been controversial, with critics pointing to the country’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers used to build an entire tournament infrastructure. Female workers spoke to the Guardian about the harassment they have experienced in the hospitality industry, and a Qatari woman who lives in the UK told the BBC about the impact of religious conservatism on her mental health.

The marketplace of Souq Waqif has become Football World Cup fan central. While it has always been the buzzing part of normally quiet Doha, the vibe is different now. For one, it’s much more crowded; the supporters and flags of the teams playing on any given day have tended to take over. The restaurants are busy and the smell of shisha mixes with that of chargrilled meat. But one thing you won’t find here is alcohol. Its sale is strictly limited and controlled here in Qatar a conservative, Muslim country.

Just two days before the opening ceremony, it was announced that alcohol would not be sold to fans inside the stadiums, though there are specific areas in fan zones where you can drink. Argentina fan Karen Retamal says, despite the limited access, she and her friends have been able to get a drink every day since they’ve been here – but she does prefer the dry stadiums, particularly for her group.

We’re from Argentina. We live football, she laughs. And when we lose, I do prefer that there’s no alcohol. Ms Retamal remembers how frustrated and angry fans were when Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia in their opening group game.

“When the game finished, the Saudi fans kept coming to us and saying: Where is Messi? Where is Messi? We were sad and angry,” she stated.

Ms Retamal believes that had those emotions been exacerbated by alcohol, the situation could have been very tense. However, she says she has generally felt at ease moving around between venues during the tournament. It is a contrast to how the showpiece match of the last major men’s football event played out. The Euro 2020 final was held at Wembley, and the disorder outside the stadium was broadcast around the world. Fans who experienced it told the BBC how unsafe they felt, and a review described it as a National Day of Shame for England.

Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup
Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup

To avoid clashes between fans and local law enforcement, several British police officers were deployed to Qatar to act as cultural interpreters between fans and law enforcement, while Turkey and Pakistan also provided their security. From the start, this has been billed as a family-friendly tournament. That is evident at matches; parents with children of all ages can be seen with flags in their hands, with some in tears if their team loses. Many have told the lack of alcohol in the stadiums has impacted to the child-friendly atmosphere.

Jolanta Bhandu is Polish and has watched her team’s games with her husband Hamlesh and two children, Ben, and Maya. We prefer the lack of alcohol, particularly when we go to the stadium with the children, she speaks. Most of the time, her team’s crowd is the pressure, so we’d prefer to have sober people at the stadium, she laughs. Francesca Ramsey, from Malta, has travelled with her husband. Worldwide Tickets and Hospitality offers Football World Cup tickets for the Qatar Football World Cup at the best prices. Football fanatics and buy Football World Cup Tickets at exclusively discounted prices.

“We love sports events, speaks Ms Ramsey, who also went to the 2014 tournament in Brazil”.

It’s very different. Here, I feel the need to cover up more, but then I don’t have a problem with that. I respect the culture. Ms Ramsey seems a bit frustrated by the limited access to alcohol here. I like to have a glass of white wine perhaps two or three, she laughs, before adding that you do see better behaviour in the stadiums. We’re used to a drink. I would’ve liked a glass of wine at the stadium. It’s a time when you want to shout, scream, and have a drink.

The last-minute alcohol ban raised questions about the decision-making of football’s world governing body FIFA, and its sway or lack of over the host country. But for the local population, it was seen as the country’s leadership staying true to Muslim rules and norms that most people in Qatar abide by – and the ban may have made the Football World Cup more accessible for many locals, who probably would have opted out otherwise.

Despite the crowds, some fans have chosen to stay away, with the decision to stage the World Cup in a country where homosexuality is illegal heavily criticized. A transgender Qatari woman told BBC News about the fear she lives in, while Amnesty has said women in Qatar face discrimination in law and practice, with them needing a guardian’s permission for key life decisions.

One of the most noticeable things here has been the number of local women, especially young ones, in the stadiums be it Qatari women or residents who have lived here most of their lives. Salma Ahmed says one of the reasons she and her relatives have felt comfortable going is the fact there is no alcohol. I wasn’t thinking about going to the stadiums before but after the ban, I wanted to go, she says. I’m a huge fan of football, so it’s been a great experience.

Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup
Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup

Female followers feel safe at the Qatar Football World Cup thanks to reduced alcohol consumption

Many supporters were up in arms at the idea of the Football World Cup taking place in a conservative country like Qatar where the sale of alcohol is highly restricted, but for some female fans, it has led to a safer experience at the tournament. I was expecting a very dangerous place for women. I didn’t think I was going to be safe here from coming here that’s not been the case, as a travelling female fan I can say that I have felt very safe, England fan Ellie Molloson told Reuters.

Molloson, who is an ambassador for a campaign to tackle sexism in football called HerGameToo, said that her father had been so concerned that he accompanied her to Qatar to ensure that she would be safe, but it turned out his services as a chaperone were not needed. The 19-year-old said that the lack of alcohol had contributed to a less bawdy atmosphere around the games at the World Cup, but in her opinion, it was mostly cultural.

I think it is due to a more socially conservative society. I think alcohol contributes a bit more to hostility, rather than things like catcalling, wolf-whistling and sexual harassment, she explained. I do like a lot of banter, I love a good atmosphere, you don’t really get so much of that here, it’s very different, but with that, it’s much more pleasant, much more family-friendly but you do not have quite the same atmosphere as you would in England. Argentina fan Ariana Gold, 21, told Reuters she was nervous before travelling to the Middle East as she did not know what to expect.

Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup
Why women feel safer at Qatar Football World Cup

“It’s really nice for women, I am very fond of football and when I was in my country, I thought maybe this (Qatar) is an area for only men, and maybe it is uncomfortable for women but no, I am very comfortable and it is very nice here,” she told.

Alcohol is available in some bars and hotels in Qatar, but there is a conspicuous lack of the kind of consumption usually seen at the world’s biggest football tournament. It’s quite a good atmosphere still, even though there’s no drink and everyone’s being sensible, England fan Emma Smith told. Everyone’s getting on with it and everyone’s happy. Has the 33-year-old from Sheffield felt safe in Qatar?

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