World Cup 2022: Qatar's defunct women's football team watches on with envy
Qatar's women's football team lost their first ever match 17-0 in 2010, but at least they were playing. Despite the country hosting the men's World Cup, the female side is dormant, having not played a competitive game since 2014.
There is now hope that the legacy of the World Cup, and the success of Morocco's men and women, can kick-start the female game in Qatar and other parts of the Arab world where patriarchy rules.
But the frustration at what has happened since 2010 when Qatar won the bid to host the men's World Cup, which included a commitment to develop women's football, still rankles with those affected.
"Of course we are feeling sad and want to participate," Hajar Saleh, a player on the national team, told DW.
"I don't think we have a ranking now, because we didn't play a proper match for such a long time. If you aren't playing, you can't improve."
Tracking down players on the erstwhile team involved burner phones, diplomats, digital security concerns and strange calls with people pretending to be someone they were not. There were also those scared to speak out, even on encrypted messaging services.
Not dedicated to football
Since losing 8-2 to Bahrain at the 2014 West Asian Football Federation Women's Championship, there have been a few friendlies for the squad and a trip to the United States to learn about the female game there.
But it is not the same as playing competitively. The team comes under the auspices of the Qatar Women's Sport Committee, which sounds like a progressive move from a Muslim country where some women wear the full veil.
The problem is that the committee comes under the wider Olympic Committee and is not effectively connected to the Qatari Football Association. The committee also deals with all sports and is not dedicated to football.
German Monika Staab was the Qatari women's coach from 2013 to 2014 and, despite never winning an official match, did oversee two of the team's best ever results: 3-0 and 1-0 defeats to the Maldives. She was reluctant to outright criticize the Qatari authorities, but she is now thriving as head of the Saudi Arabian team where she says progress is going "tremendously" well.
"You can go far if you want to. They [the Qataris] need experience from outside," she told DW. "It is not that everything disappeared. You need the right people to support you, I had luck here in Saudi Arabia."
'One step at a time'
Qatar is now bursting with football academies and infrastructure, partly the legacy of the World Cup bid and partly because it is a warm-weather training destination for European men's clubs, particularly Bayern Munich.
The Education City Stadium, which has hosted eight World Cup matches, is allegedly earmarked to become the "home of women's football in Qatar," according to stadium designers BDP.
The Aspire Academy is the most famous institution. It was set up by the Qatari authorities in 2004 with the aim to boost the chances of Qatari athletes across several sports and become a center of excellence for the wider world. But all these years later, it does not have a women's football program.
Tim Cahill, a former Australia World Cup player, is now the chief sports officer at Aspire.
"My daughter plays here for Lusail... so there is a lot of women's football in Qatar," he told DW. "With football it becomes a process, you go through these elements where you start different organizations. There is always talk about women's football [at Aspire]. At the moment it is one step at a time."
One Qatari football school that does have a program for girls and women is the Paris Saint-Germain Academy. The French women's club and men's champions, who boast Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe among their ranks, are owned by Qatar Sports Investments, a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, Qatar's sovereign wealth fund.
But despite the links with the Qatari state, there is no real cooperation with the Qatari national team.
Aya Jurdi, a Lebanon women's international, is also a coach at the PSG Academy. She said they offered to help with the Qatar women's team but were rebuffed.
"We tried to give them that idea but nothing happened from their side," she told DW.
"There is a good number of girls and clubs. There is no proper management. They are not interested yet in investing in women's football. If they gave the freedom to [former trainer Monika Staab] which she has now in Saudi Arabia, they would be in a better place."
'Morocco is the best example'
Jurdi believes cultural issues are holding Qatar back.
"They have a league for girls and women but it is played behind closed doors," she said. "At PSG there are male coaches, it is open to everyone."
Despite repeated requests for comment, the Qatar Women's Sport Committee did not respond. A statement on the Olympic Committee website reads: "The QWSC has considerably advanced Qatari women's participation and performance in a range of sports over the years."
Morocco's fabulous run at the men's World Cup has captivated the Arab world at the first World Cup hosted by an Arab country. Their women's team will also play in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year for the first time.
"Morocco is going to the women's World Cup. That is amazing. I have seen the improvement. Morocco is the best example for the Arab world," said Staab, who hopes a women's World Cup will also soon be held in the region. "I don't think 20 years," she said. "I think it will be sooner."
Former Nigeria men's footballer Sunday Oliseh, on FIFA's technical group at the World Cup and whose wife is Moroccan, thinks women's football can benefit from Morocco's fervor.
"The Moroccan female team beat my country Nigeria not so long ago," he said. "Morocco's men's success here will help, there is nothing as good as success."
Qatar player Hajar Saleh is also hopeful about the future.
"They promised us that next year there would be more events. There is potential."