By David Brown, Doha
Wed 30 Nov 2022
Ellie Molloson, who campaigns to improve matchday experiences for women football supporters, was so concerned about visiting Qatar her father is acting as her chaperone.
He need not have bothered. Molloson and many other female England fans say this World Cup could create a model for the game at home.
“I’ve got to say coming here has been a real shock to my system,” said Molloson, 19, who runs the HerGameToo campaign. “There have been no catcalls, wolf whistles or sexism of any kind.”
There has been widespread international criticism of Qatar’s discrimination against women and LGBT people. But at least during the carefully curated environment of the World Cup, many female fans have found the stadiums more welcoming than at home.
“I had all these preconceived notions about what I would encounter,” said Molloson, a student from Nottingham. “The reality has been nothing like that. I’ve not experienced any of the harassment I have experienced in England. I don’t know how they have achieved that but it’s an amazing environment to experience.”
Her father Adam, 49, a teacher, said: “I came out primarily to look after Ellie and frankly I needn’t have bothered.”
Jo Glover, 47, a Chelsea fan from Milton Keynes, has been attending World Cup finals since South Africa in 2010. “The atmosphere here feels less tribal. Everyone is wearing their [team] colours and there is no hassle,” she said.
Many women say the sudden decision by Qatar’s royal family not to allow the sale of alcohol around stadiums helped to create a less hostile environment. Some recall the drunken yobs who caused chaos at Wembley when England reached the Euro 2020 final in July.
“The Euro final atmosphere was not fun, it was tense,” said Glover. “It should not matter if you can’t get a drink at the stadium, football should not be about getting drunk.”
Female fans had been warned about the cultural rules in Qatar regarding clothing. “As a woman I haven’t found it awkward here,” said Glover. “I have a pashmina in my bag in case I am asked to cover my shoulders, but haven’t been asked to use it yet.”
Lianne Sanderson, 34, a former England player who became the first English professional footballer to come out as gay, has also praised the atmosphere in Qatar. She also highlighted the restrictions on alcohol. “If you can’t go to a football match and enjoy it without being absolutely battered, then you probably shouldn’t be coming,” said the talkSPORT presenter.
The BBC said that 18.7 million people watched its coverage of England’s 3-0 win over Wales on Tuesday night. The atmosphere among fans in the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Doha was noticeably less boisterous than normal. The fun of travelling with England has been diluted for some traditional fans.
A senior British police officer is using the lack of hooliganism in Qatar as evidence that the government should not ease restrictions on alcohol at football grounds.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who is in charge of the UK’s football policing, said the atmosphere in Qatar had been “passionate but friendly”, similar to the women’s Euro 2022 finals held in the summer.
The government is considering lifting the ban on drinking alcohol in view of the pitch in senior leagues, a restriction that has been in place for 36 years. Roberts said the UK could learn from the experience in Qatar and “drop ideas of reintroducing alcohol in the stands”. “There isn’t any alcohol, there’s still a nice buzz about it and it does feel really relaxed, which is good,” he added.
It is not just in the stands where women are noticing the difference. Stéphanie Frappart, 38, will become the first woman to referee in the men’s World Cup for the match between Germany and Costa Rica. There will be two female assistant referees, Salima Mukansanga and Yoshimi Yamashita.
Frappart said before the start of the World Cup that she hoped the inclusion of female referees in Qatar would “make things happen” on a broader level.