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"A World Cup for everyone" - How a 11-year-old specially abled fan realised his dream in Qatar

8:14 PM IST 07/12/22
Rocco McGowan Qatar
Qatar's commitment to host an extremely accessible World Cup has helped a specially abled young fan to realise his dream of watching live football.

Rocco McGowan, an ardent football fan, had a memorable experience watching the 2022 World Cup from four different stadiums in Qatar. It was a special experience for the young fan who until now had never visited a stadium in person but Qatar fulfilled his long cherished dream.

The 11-year-old, a Scottish football fan who is born and bred in Qatar, suffers from cerebral palsy. Due to his condition, McGowan never had the opportunity to watch a game of football from a stadium but the World Cup changed his life.

He has now watched five World Cup games involving teams like Brazil, Portugal, England, USA and South Korea in 11 days at four different venues - Stadium 974, Khalifa International, Education City and Al Thumama.

Picking Al Thumama as his favourite venue, he 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,” McGowan told Qatar Foundation.

Rocco’s father Liam McGowan has lived in Qatar for the past 14 years. He has watched football matches live across the world but for the first time in his life, he decided to take his son to the ground after watching Qatar’s commitment to host an extremely accessible World Cup. He was all praises for the host nation’s thoughtful steps of making a memorable experience for differently abled fans.

He 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.

“At every game, we’ve attended, within minutes of reaching our seats, a staff member has come to us to check on us to make sure everything is okay and see if we have any feedback. It’s been great to see they are following through with their promise of hosting the most accessible World Cup.”

Liam further added, “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.”

The young fan has now not only lived his dream of watching live matches, he was also invited by FIFA officials to be a player escort and accompany the teams on the pitch during Portugal and South Korea's group stage tie. Overwhelmed with the gesture he said, “I felt amazing being there with the other kids, I felt included, I felt celebrated, and I felt happy.”

He also got one side of his wheelchair signed by Neymar and the other side signed by David Beckham.

Thanks to Qatar Foundation's Ability Friendly Program, which has been running for the past three years, McGowan also gets an opportunity to play football regularly.

His mother Gillian McGowan spoke about how much her son enjoys playing the sport. She said, "They give him the opportunity to play and have fun in a safe environment, and they are also great in helping him get in some exercise in a fun way which is very important for him given his health condition. I didn’t realize how much Rocco enjoyed his time at the classes until one day something came up, so I told him we’d not be able to go to his football class, and his response was ‘It’s okay if you have something else mum, just call me a taxi and I’ll go myself. I can’t miss it’."