What message does FIFA’s choice of Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup send to the growing number of female fans worldwide?
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that women’s football has its place, not just in the international calendar but on the world stage, and boasted that the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 will have a whole 24 participating countries.
Qatar won the vote, despite, as NYDailyNews.com pointed out, “Concerns about that country’s treatment of women, its claustrophobic borders and its brutally hot summers.” (Dec. 2)
I can only speak from personal experience, but Doha Airport, despite the thinnest veneer of western ambiance – the mediocre duty free hall, the ersatz American coffee shop and the English signs – swiftly reveals itself for what it is; the ugly greeting card for a country that would prefer all women to be neither seen nor heard. This is what will greet female fans in 2022.
Two months ago I had the misfortune of an unscheduled stopover at Doha airport, currently Qatar’s only such facility, courtesy of a sick child and a missed transfer.
As a woman traveling alone with a child, no wedding ring, and a different surname on my passport to my son’s, I had the full onslaught of Qatar hospitality; which is to say, conflicting information, being ignored and men speaking to my sick son rather than to me. I was told we had seats on the next flight, and to come back at a designated time in 18 hours.
When it transpired that the next flight was full, there were no seats, and perhaps would be none for days, I finally lost my temper.
“Madam, if you had a husband here with you, then your child would be home now,” I was told. “This is your fault. You are supposed to have someone who can help you with these things. And if not then a husband at home who would organise everything for you when things went wrong.”
So I pulled out the trump card women have played for centuries: I cried. “I have a medical condition and I need to get back to Melbourne for treatment or I will collapse!” I wailed. Suddenly, the steel doors of airport indifference eased open a little. Competent and alone, I was treated with contempt. Now, broken and in despair, I could be pitied. It was suggested I buy an upgrade for business class tickets on the next flight. It transpired, after being shuffled from desk to desk, even these tickets were sold out.
After 20 hours, I was told to leave the airport, venture into the extreme heat, find a hotel and wait. We staggered downstairs to organise a visa and I broke down and sobbed to the man behind the counter. Fragile and helpless worked. He arranged another flight for us, to Melbourne, Australia via Denpasar, Indonesia; no charge. After more waiting, he reemerged with solemn news. “Your brother called,” he said, with due reverence. “You must phone him and tell him we are taking care of you and your son. You must do so immediately and tell him we are helping you.”
If you don’t have a husband handy, a brother or father will do in Doha Airport. The lifeline of patriarchy is the only thing a solo female traveler can rely on in Qatar.
Good luck to the female fans FIFA is trying desperately to recruit.
Evelyn Tsitas is the co-author of the parenting book Handle With Care. She is a doctorate student at RMIT University, Melbourne.