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A new way of understanding the FIFA World Cup: Audio-descriptive commentary helps blind persons enjoy Qatar 2022

Qatar 2022 is a tournament that made history at the FIFA World Cup and is continuously trying to become more and more inclusive, so everybody enjoys and feels the magic of the competition, irrespective of gender or the impairment of the fans.

For blind fans, football is still a huge passion and now, at Qatar 2022, they are able to understand what is happening on the pitch, what kits the player wear or how they really do during the 64 matches played in the competition.

For the first time ever, commentators were trained in Doha, Qatar, to provide ultra-detailed audio descriptive commentary (ADC) in Arabic for those needing it inside the stadium, opening a new gate for inclusiveness and delivering a tailor-made experience at the FIFA World Cup for everybody who needs it.

The idea, according to the trainers that made it possible, is not just to describe the on-field action for the blind and partially sighted but to deliver a full experience, delivering in the best possible way the atmosphere that surrounds the matches.

The audio descriptive commentary provides blind and partially sighted fans with a detailed account of what is happening in the stadium, including where the ball is on the pitch, players’ facial expressions, and what is happening in the stands. After arriving at the game, fans simply need to download the FIFA Interpreting app (Apple/Google Play) on their personal devices and use their own headphones to listen to the dedicated commentary. The service is also available in Arabic and English and can be accessed whether you are in the stadium or at home. 

This is not the first time that ADC is available at the FIFA World Cup, with the service premiered at Brazil 2014 and continued at Russia 2018, with excellent reviews coming from the users, who are now feeling the matches better and get an excellent understanding about what is happening on the pitch and in the stands, where the atmosphere has been otherworldly at times.

“In the past, if I went to a stadium, I would have to rely on the commentary of a friend sitting beside me in the stands, or on the non-descriptive commentary on TV, if I’m watching at home,” said Faisal Al Kohaji, a 33-year-old lawyer who works in the energy sector in Qatar.

“Thanks to this service, I’m now able to feel the excitement of being in the stands at a World Cup match while following exactly what’s happening on the pitch. It’s an amazing experience,” added Al Kohaji, according to the official FIFA website, after he attended the match of his home country, Qatar, when they played against the Netherlands at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Prior to the tournament, 64 commentators were trained by tournament organizers in conjunction with Hamad Bin Khalifa University and the Center for Access to Football in Europe.

The training programmes are being held at Qatar’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) in partnership with the Center for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE).

Trainees have to pass three exams before being selected and will then undergo refresher classes as the World Cup approaches.

This is not the first time that ADC commentary in Arabic has been provided to fans, with a pilot programme being delivered at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, which also took place in Qatar.

Aspiring commentators refined their skills during the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup before 18 Arabic speakers were chosen to provide commentary during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

Beyond football, audio descriptive commentary can be used in different settings, including cinemas and theatres.

“This is a very revolutionary thing that we are doing,” Alan March, a leading ADC figure and conducting the training programme in Doha, told Qatari outlet Al Jazeera.

“Forget about naming footballers as they touch the ball. Instead, which side of the pitch does the ball come from? How far away from the goalkeeper is the striker kicking the ball and was it inside or outside the penalty box,” he added.

Despite the challenges, impaired people are getting more and more attention, with FIFA bidding to resolve a sleuth of issues, such as mobility, accommodation, and using public transport in the cities organizing the FIFA World Cup.

However, things are getting better and better and the experience at Qatar 2022 has surely been next to none.

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