Doha: One side of Rocco McGowan’s wheelchair is signed by Brazil’s Neymar and the other is signed by England’s David Beckham. Just like most other boys his age, he enjoys watching football on television, plays FIFA on the PlayStation, and is part of a football programme.
Until two weeks ago, he had just about every credential needed to be recognised as a true football fan, all except one — he had never been to a stadium to watch a game. After seeing Qatar’s commitment to hosting the most accessible FIFA World Cup, his parents decided to change that and purchased accessible seat tickets for him.
This meant that Rocco, who had never been to a football game all his life, was able to go to five FIFA World Cup games in just 11 days, and has seen teams like Brazil, Portugal, England, USA and South Korea play.
The four stadiums he has watched a game at are 974, Khalifa International, Education City and Al Thumama. His favourite one being Al Thumama, where he has watched two games.
When asked why he liked Al Thumama the most, Rocco, who is Scottish but was born and raised in Qatar, said: “It was the first stadium I ever went to, the first time I saw a pitch and got to be part of a sea of football fans, and the first time I got to cheer live so that made it extra special for me.”
His father, Liam McGowwan, who has been a resident of Qatar for 14 years, said “The accessible seats are usually at the bottom and so they don’t have a good view, but the way they’ve done it here – not only do fans with disabilities have a perfect view of the pitch, but they also have the choice to sit exactly where they want to around the stadium.”
Speaking on his experience at the games, Rocco’s father said it’s been “absolutely spectacular” so far, and that just on their first game, they had slight trouble figuring out where the accessible parking for those with limited mobility was, but once they figured that out, it has been remarkably smooth sailing.
The McGowan family has firsthand witnessed the “tremendous strides” the country has made when it comes to accessibility – thanks to the FIFA World Cup.
He said: “One of our games was at Khalifa International Stadium and we thought why don’t we go walking since we live close by. I was so pleasantly surprised as to how easily we got to the stadium. There were smooth pedestrian walkways and dropped curbs the whole way which made it an absolute breeze.”
He thinks if Qatar can carry this momentum around ensuring and improving accessibility post the FIFA World Cup, then he is “positive the country can see a future where Rocco and other persons with disabilities can live independently, and as a father there is no better feeling than that.”
In addition to watching football, McGowan is also a keen football player and has been a part of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Ability Friendly Program for the past three years. According to his mother, Gillian McGowan, his football classes at QF are a consistent highlight of his week.