As Doha’s weather finally cools down, its residents are breathing a sigh of relief and starting to head to some of the city’s green refuges, including Aspire Park.
But as of this week, numerous visitors say they are being asked by security guards to leave the popular park for not conforming to unannounced new dress code standards.
Officials have not confirmed a change in the rules, but guards have been telling both men and women that they must either wear sports gear (defined as genuine sports attire covering shoulders and knees, and including athletic shoes) or Qatari national dress – either a thobe for men or an abaya for women – plus closed-toed shoes.
Park visitors we’ve spoken to say that children and people over 50 are apparently exempt from the rules, although it isn’t clear if exceptions are made for teenagers.
Comments made on Twitter and online forums suggest that picnicking in the park may also have been banned.
This morning, Aspire Park management canceled a meeting scheduled with Doha News to clarify the new rules. A spokesman said via email:
“We treat all comments from our esteemed community and media with utmost importance and would like to emphasize to you that Aspire Zone Foundation is currently engaged in the process of gathering information regarding this case.
Since we are in the process of gathering information, we are not in a position to meet you today, Thursday, October 4th. Please accept our apologies. We will get back to you upon the completion of the process.”
Doha News has heard from expat Matt about his experience at the park yesterday:
“I drove to the park in order to take my two children – girl 3, boy 1.5 – to one of the children’s play parks but, after getting them and the pushchair out of the car, one of the G4S security guards came over to tell me that we weren’t allowed to enter the park.
I must state that I was conservatively dressed in a pair of long trousers and short-sleeved shirt, having made the effort to dress appropriately. Having been told that I could only come in if I was wearing sports kit or a thobe, I asked him if it was okay if I went to Carrefour to buy one, but he said that I still wasn’t allowed in. So therefore I take it that I have to put on my sports kit – a t-shirt and either long shorts or tracksuit trousers by their ruling – in order to let my kids have fun and enjoy themselves.
I must say that I find this new rule ludicrous insomuch that there is a huge problem with obesity, diabetes, and general bad health and yet here they are making it difficult for people to take some moderate exercise and get some fresh air. It seems crazy to make us wear sports gear just play with our kids, walk around the lake, go for an ice-cream at the cafe, etc.”
An Australian expat named Jane, also told us what happened during her visit to the park two days ago:
“I took my daughter for a play at Aspire Park. She was on the slide at the play area. While I was there I was chastised by a guard for not conforming to “the new dress code.” He came up to me and told me that apparently women must now wear trousers or skirts to the ankle and shirts to the wrist. This is news to me.
I was wearing 3/4 length trousers and a short sleeved shirt which covered my shoulders, the same thing I always wear to the park. I asked when this new rule took effect and where I could get this information in writing…suddenly his English was not so good.”
A Pakistani expat named Adnan shared his story with Doha News as well, saying:
“I am a Pakistani male and I was there with my family and I was wearing a shalwar qameez, Pakistani national dress, and this security guard came and he said it’s a sports park, so you have to wear sports wear. The thing is I don’t think that dress code rule is mentioned anywhere in the park or on their website.”
Expat families, meanwhile, say they feel the new rules are aimed at keeping them out of the park, or at the very least, discouraging them from visiting. Steve Nobles shared his view on the new rules in the comments section below:
I used to proclaim my love for Qatar on a regular basis, but this past year, I have started to feel as though I am not welcomed here in Qatar anymore. That is a real shame. I wonder where I am supposed to take my family and kids now on the weekend.
Aspire Park has had a long-standing rule that entrance is for “families only,” and that single men will only be admitted wearing sporting gear.
The new rules, if true, would be the latest in a long list of rules visitors to the park must adhere to, including not sitting near the water, not playing football or any organised sport, and not cycling anywhere in the park.
Aspire Park is not the only place in Qatar where new rules are raising hackles. We’ve heard from residents of The Pearl who are upset that their children are not being allowed to ride their tricycles and kids’ bikes along the boardwalk there.
A spokesperson at The Pearl confirmed the restriction, saying it was introduced as a “safety precaution.”
Aspire Park management has promised to come back to us once the new rules have been defined officially. We will let you know as soon as they do.
Have you been to Aspire Park lately? What was your experience?
Credit: Aspire Park sign by Gina Lamb
Editor’s note: This post was updated, replacing a quote from an unnamed forum with a quote from a Doha News commenter.