She had read disturbing things about Qatar, which was the host nation.
Andrea, 29, told news reporters that “the Middle East has been portrayed in the US media in a totally different way from what I have experienced here,” and she added that her friends had opted against visiting Qatar.
Andrea expressed her happiness at coming. “Back home, I can’t do simple things like go on a late-night walk around the city.”
A 10pm (19:00 GMT) kickoff time for many of the group stage matches and knockout games mean that fans exit stadiums, use public transport and celebrate in fan zones well past midnight. And women, in groups or on their own, are watching football at public screenings, singing and dancing with other fans and moving around without worrying about their safety. According to the Numbeo Crime Index, Doha routinely ranks as the safest or the second-safest city in the world.
For Joy Nkuna, the experience has been a stark contrast to her home country South Africa, which ranks as among the most dangerous countries for women travellers. “We have very high crime rates in my country, especially against women,” she said. According to recent government figures, more than 1,000 women were murdered in South Africa in a three-month period between the start of July and the end of September.
Nkuna, 39, said she doesn’t venture out alone past sunset in her country. “From the minute it gets dark, women can’t be out alone or they will be in danger,” she said. “Here, me and my daughter walked around at 3am and nobody intimidated us, catcalled us or looked at us in a way that would make us feel unsafe.”
It’s an experience that Tatiana Lopez can relate to. Thirty-three-year-old Brazil fan Lopez, who has travelled from Colombia with two female friends, said men in public places have been very courteous. “While it is strange to see more men in public places (compared to women) than I’m used to seeing in Colombia, they have all been very respectful.”
Lopez said she has been enjoying the tournament without worrying about her belongings, which is something she’s not used to back home. “I can actually carry my backpack on my back, and keep my phone in my pocket because I know nobody will snatch it from me.”
Women who have been living in Qatar said safety is not a new phenomenon linked to the World Cup.
That confidence is shared by women from other parts of the Gulf region, many of whom have been able to participate in the Middle East’s biggest-ever sporting extravaganza without fear.
The decision by organisers to ban alcohol sales in or near the match venues has also added to the confidence of many women that attending games won’t compromise their safety.
Camilla Ferrierra, a tournament volunteer from Brazil, said knowing that she won’t be surrounded by drunk fans at the stadiums made her feel safer.