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The trailblazing woman who overlooks critical infrastructure at Qatar 2022

When the first edition of the FIFA World Cup was played, there was no internet and no cable television. With the adoption of new technologies, everything changed, with the popularity of the competition soaring even higher. Now, over 1 billion people are watching the games and cheering for their favourites, with the competition’s legacy firmly set in stone.

The adoption of new technologies, connectivity, the internet, and social media platforms all set new standards for the world’s flagship football competition. Every dribble, every goal, and every foul are now scrutinized and viewed by hundreds of millions of fans with a simple click.

And according to the Local Organising Committee, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be the most technologically advanced tournament to date, not only through the adoption of semi-automatic offside for the VAR and through the air-conditioned stadiums, but mostly thanks to the intelligent use of the Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities by Qatar.

The first-ever start-up in Qatar, Qatar Innovations Mobility Centre (QMIC) has used its IoT platform to connect sensors around Doha and the other venues at Qatar 2022 to make it easier for fans to plan their routes to the games using real-time information about traffic, taxis, the city’s new metro system, and venues’ entrances and exits. Once they find their seats, fans will be able to order food, drinks, and merchandise during games; connect with other fans in the stadium, and access online match information with live translation in several languages.

Behind the streamlined organisation for the tournament, a woman is the trailblazer of the project, watching closely for everything to fall into place at the right time, as Qatar will be watched under a microscope over the next month when 32 teams and over 1 million fans will visit the Middle East country.

According to Wired, in her role as an information and communications technology (ICT) guru, Maryam Al-Muftah, the Director of Information Technology at the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, is in charge of connectivity services for the entire tournament, including 70,000 places of accommodation, and all the technology installed in the command center.

“We are driven to provide an excellent fan experience while adapting to the new norms that focus on sustainability and accessibility,” says Al-Muftah according to Wired.

She is also in charge of cybersecurity preparations and the challenges that accompany hosting a mega sporting event heavily reliant on smart services and cloud storage, such as data-security breaches and IT-systems failure.

What might look easy on a first look, it is a job that is a draining one, with one misstep creating a possible breach that could really hamper the successful organisation of the competition, with any intruder in the system being a serious security breach.

“It is likely our threats will expand as we draw nearer to the tournament, meaning we have had to build our cybersecurity skillset, grow compliance, and maintain all our capabilities. We have developed strong partnerships with major cybersecurity partners, but we need to be vigilant and continue to expand our expertise to tackle all aspects of this issue,” added Al-Muftah.

Al-Muftah also had a test run during the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, which served as a benchmark, a scale repetition before the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with all eyes on Qatar.

“During the FIFA Arab Cup, we managed a range of projects, including international connectivity, the implementation of mobile/tetra/radio devices in stadiums, and the optical transport network that carries event IT network and broadcast network traffic. We worked closely with the Communications Regulatory Authority in order to meet FIFA obligations and delivered a number of projects in a short timeframe, including the command centre and press conference area. The work we put in allowed broadcasters to take the highest quality footage in the quickest possible time – which is one achievement we are truly proud of,” added Al-Muftah.

But how does she cope with the pressure on a personal level, especially in a country like Qatar?

“Being a Qatari woman working in the sports sector can be challenging, however, I have managed to overcome that. Another challenge is women working in the technology industry generally, as it tends to be male-dominated. However, I have found that nothing is difficult where there is teamwork. Whether you’re new or experienced, teamwork determines everything,” said Al-Muftah.

However, it is the future which Al-Muftah looks highly interested in. The legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will not only be crucial for Qatar as a football country but also as a geopolitical power.

“I expect Qatar will change for the better in many ways as a result of hosting the tournament. Looking around now, Qatar’s landscape has changed significantly. A once-unknown country has gained global attention. We have opened up to investors, tourists, and those looking for jobs. The population has increased greatly. I have no doubt that we will continue to evolve,” concluded Al-Muftah.

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