DOHA ( Associated Press) — Untouched by the deafening noise, lights and fireworks that surround World Cup matches, there is a safe space for fans who can feel overwhelmed by the atmosphere of a stadium.
‘Sensory rooms’ at three of Qatar’s stadiums provide a quiet haven for children and young people with autism, learning disabilities or other conditions that require regular exposure to sights and noises.
Located in the raised boxes of Al Bayt, Education City and Lusail Stadium, rooms feature soft furnishings, noise-canceling earmuffs, as well as equipment and toys for children that better cope with the environment, Worry less and enjoy the unique experience. of a World Cup match.
“A place like this is like a breath and a warm hug,” said Rana Smith, co-founder of Sensory Sock, a Doha-based company whose employees operate these sensory rooms.
“Everyone should have the right and opportunity to experience football,” he believed. “If anyone has limited speech or mobility, that should never be a barrier to experiencing something so wonderful and a crowd-pleaser.”
Dimly lit rooms include cushions, colored lights, transparent cylinders inside which bubbles are generated, as well as various surfaces on the walls intended to help people calm down and focus.
Sensory bags including ear muffs, padded lap blankets and sensory toys are also provided for the fan.
Large floor-to-ceiling windows allow families to view the court. The goal is to allow people to be gradually introduced to soccer. Alison Saraf, co-founder of Sensory Soak at Lusail, the 80,000-capacity stadium that hosted the World Cup final, explained that they can occupy the stands for a set period of time and return to the sensory room when necessary.
“In kids, ideally what we want to do is instill a passion for a new sport,” Saraf said. “The goal is always to have as many people as possible able to really enjoy playing outdoors, and experiencing everything that’s out there.”
The initiative is run by FIFA and the Supreme Committee for Compliance and Legacy, which organizes the World Cup in Qatar.
Sensory rooms have been included in recent years at the venues of several professional sports leagues in the United States, including the MLS, NBA, and NFL, to provide quiet spaces for fans with sensory challenges.
“This is truly a worldwide phenomenon, as people more and more understand the fact that they need to broaden the appeal of sports across every demographic,” said Dr. Julian Maha, director of CultureCity, a US-based organization. co-founder. Has helped sports teams with programs for visitors with sensory issues, including autistic people.
“Because of their sensory issues, many of these individuals who attend a large-scale sporting event in a stadium may not only feel overwhelmed, but also experience physical pain from the crowd, noise, smell, and Get disconnected from the community. No. No long term involvement.”
By providing sensory rooms, the World Cup “really opens up sport to a lot more people who have been marginalized and excluded, giving them the opportunity to re-engage, to be part of the community again and Enjoy all the things we are, the crazy people we take for granted.”