From women’s team to grassroots game: questions linger in Qatar

·6-min read

What is going on with the women’s national team?

The Qatar women’s team has not played an official game since 2014. A squad exists in some form, and is believed to gather for training and matches played in private, but their activities are kept far from the spotlight and they are not run by the local FA. They do not appear on the Fifa rankings. The side was formed in 2009, shortly before the World Cup bid was made, but has only been in action 15 times. In private the right noises are being made about a return to action and discussions are believed to be underway, although as with many of the lingering questions about Qatar’s post-World Cup future there is little detail about timescales. The idea is that they will have infrastructure waiting for them, with the Education City Stadium being repurposed into the team’s home and a hub for women’s sport. A friendly tournament involving academy and club sides from Qatar and abroad took place there last month. A small local league exists, while positive steps are undoubtedly being made to improve participation at grassroots level: the recently-created Elite Academy for girls shows promise. But real hope that Qatar is serious about developing the sport would come in the form of an active national team.

Related: Marooned after World Cup misery, Qatar turn to canny Carlos Queiroz

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And the Beckham-praised community league?

Endorsed glowingly by David Beckham on its website as a model World Cup legacy project, the Qatar Community Football League is a bona fide success story. It has run for six years and now involves around 2,000 participants in men’s, boys’ and girls’ leagues. The players are largely migrants; the standard is high and it functions as the country’s strongest amateur competition. But despite Beckham’s praise, its future form is in some doubt. The league is funded through the World Cup’s Supreme Committee, which is winding down and should have dissolved by the end of the year. Concrete pledges of funding have been scarce and there is a scramble to find new pitches; for its current season, the cost of entering a senior team was doubled to £900.

That has deterred at least one side from signing up and, given the low wages earned by so many workers, it appears to hamper the league’s hopes for inclusivity. The Guardian has been told that the hike is short-term and will be reversed once the league’s future is secure; a partnership with a local professional club, which would provide facilities to stage games, is under discussion and sponsors are being sought. The league provides a valuable social function and has potential as a pathway for players who aspire towards a football career, but a long-term plan for its survival is yet to be confirmed.

What’s in store for the men’s national team?

While most of the teams that participated in the World Cup were competing during the international break, Qatar sat this one out. Several of its star players – including Hassan Al-Haydos, Almoez Ali and Mohammed Muntari – were instead on show last Thursday, watched by a small but engaged crowd, in a league cup semi-final between Al Sadd and Al Duhail. The new national team manager, Carlos Queiroz, has time to plan his strategy for a side that flopped badly in last winter’s showpiece. The night before, Qatar’s Under-23s lost 1-0 to neighbours the United Arab Emirates in the Doha Cup, a friendly tournament involving 10 Asian sides. Three days later Thailand defeated them by the same score. Their football was neat, tidy and built from the back, in line with the style preached by the Aspire Academy through which most of the team progressed, but ultimately powderpuff. Whether the veteran Queiroz has time for such an approach at senior level is anyone’s guess but Qatar expects its investment in football to bear serious fruit by some means or other. Will an organised fan culture materialise in time, too? By a head count around 160 were watching the local derby against UAE, even though there was no senior match to compete with it and admission was free; that figure included media, staff and invitees. The Guardian understands that the ultras who cheered Qatar on last winter were largely sourced from Lebanon and surrounding countries, paid and stationed in Qatar for several weeks prior to the tournament so that they could practise their routines. In-depth engagement with the native population appears some way off.

Is the situation for female workers and the LGBTQ+ community improving?

Qatar’s labour reforms continue to be patchily implemented and many workers, including some still working on World Cup sites, still find their futures looking deeply precarious. There is another, largely hidden, layer to the issue: the welfare and rights available to tens of thousands of women who undergo domestic work in the country. Their safety can be hard to track because many are essentially bound to the families for whom they work: anecdotal evidence from several male workers suggests opportunities are vanishingly rare to speak in person, one-to-one, with female compatriots who perform live-in work. Reforms have been made to ensure domestic workers no longer need to obtain their employers’ permission to change jobs or leave the country, while the Philippines is among the nations to have an established support network for its nationals and others are following suit. But there are still major concerns around working hours, supposedly limited to 10 hours a day six times a week, along with the physical and mental abuse many of these workers are feared to endure behind closed doors. To a large extent this remains a hidden problem with which Qatar has not yet got to grips. Similarly hidden are issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community in a country where homosexuality is illegal. The controversy over the rainbow-coloured OneLove armband at Qatar 2022 showed how far there is to go, a journey that has certainly not covered much more distance in the three months since the tournament.

A pitch invader wearing a shirt reading “Save Ukraine” holds a rainbow flag during the World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay at Lusail Stadium last November.
A pitch invader wearing a ‘Save Ukraine’ shirt holds a rainbow flag during the World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay. Photograph: François Nel/Getty Images

Will positive overseas work continue?

As uncertainty reigns over other legacy projects, one of the World Cup’s flagship schemes aims to go from strength to strength. Generation Amazing works in around 75 countries globally and aims to empower youngsters through football; it has operated under the Supreme Committee’s aegis and can tell a number of worthwhile stories reflecting that there are, away from the dark cloud over the tournament’s legacy, good people doing vital things in other areas. There is particular pride at its work in Afghanistan during the recent crisis. When the Supreme Committee dissolves it will transform into a stand-alone NGO and intends to continue its wide-ranging remit. The hope must be that it receives the tools to fulfil its promises.