International sporting events, like the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, capture the attention of the world. The investment that is poured into the development of infrastructure and the construction of sports stadiums, hotels and attractions is mind-boggling. Improvements to the built environment often disrupt the inaccessible world. This investment can radically alter the landscape, making it more accessible and changing the lives of those with disabilities.
In the past 20 years, the Olympic Games have been held outside of the “First World” on only two occasions: 2008 in Beijing, China and 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Since I became a wheelchair user, I have spent a great deal of time in developing countries. Wheelchair accessibility and services for the disabled are not typically good in nations with unstable or lagging economies.
Countries selected to host an Olympiad or World Cup are sure to receive an economic “boom.” For countries like the United States, it is only a “drop in the bucket.” But, for developing nations, such a selection can have a life-changing impact on so many, especially on those who are typically marginalized by societies.
In 2010, two years before my car accident and disability, FIFA announced that Russia and Qatar would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Reports of bribery abounded and, at the time, I lamented over the United States’ failed bid for the 2022 tournament. Now, as a disabled man confined to a wheelchair, I’ve had an about-face. Earlier this year, I traveled to Moscow, Russia and, more recently, to Beijing, China. Prior to hosting the Olympic Games, both cities were almost completely inaccessible.
It was not too long ago that Russian leaders denied the existence of a disabled population, declaring “There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.!” The 2014 Sochi Olympics encouraged improvements to accessibility in public transportation, building construction, hotels and even sidewalks. The moderately accessible Moscow I visited in April 2015 would not have existed if Russia had not hosted the Olympic Games. The 2018 World Cup will build upon these advancements in accessibility, thereby opening up more of the country to the wheelchair traveler and the local population.
The United States finished second behind Qatar in voting for the 2022 World Cup. That was a good thing. America doesn’t need a World Cup to draw attention to the barriers to equal access in this country. Websites like mine point out the inequities that plague people with disabilities and prevent them from participating in their communities.
Qataris stand to benefit more from the World Cup than Americans would have. Development in Qatar is already underway, and isn’t limited to the construction of football arenas. Improvements in accessibility are being made to the public transportation system. Wheelchair accessible taxi cabs have been introduced. Curb cuts have been installed in the sidewalks. Hotels with roll-in showers are popping up throughout Doha.
America would have built a few new elevators, while Qatar is going through a renaissance in accessibility. I vote for the latter – for the development of an accessible world.
Next week, I am traveling to the island Kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. I will also spend time in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. It will be my first visit to the Middle East, and I look forward to reviewing the accessibility of those cities. Although Qatar is situated between Bahrain and the U.A.E., I won’t have time to visit on this trip, but hope to in 2016.
Where can we expect major improvements to accessibility in the future? I have pasted the announced host sites of major international sporting events here:
- 2016 Summer Olympics: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- 2018 Winter Olympics: Pyeongchang, South Korea
- 2018 FIFA World Cup: Kaliningrad, Kazan, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Saint Petersburg, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg, Russia
- 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Auxerre, Grenoble, Le Havre, Lyon, Montpellier, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Reims, Rennes and Valenciennes, France.
- 2020 Summer Olympics: Tokyo, Japan
- 2022 Winter Olympics: Beijing, China
- 2022 FIFA World Cup: Al Khor, Al Rayyan, Al Wakrah, Doha, Lusail, Madinat ash Shamal and Umm Salal, Qatar.
Where would you most like to see major improvements to accessibility?
Are there any cities you’d like to visit, but are afraid to go to?