Innovative ability friendly sports program recognised

Sports program launched by WISH featured in leading journal


Doha, Qatar, 9 May, 2022: The success of Qatar Foundation’s (QF) innovative ability friendly community sports program has been highlighted in a paper published in last month’s BMJ Innovations, an online journal which focuses on emerging digital health, medical devices, and system innovations. BMJ Innovations is a specialist peer-reviewed online journal from The BMJ, one of the world’s most eminent and cited medical publications.

“The road to success: Lessons learned from the Qatar Foundation Ability Friendly Program” is co-authored by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) and the team behind the QF Ability Friendly (AF) program. It outlines major challenges and mitigation strategies for those looking to develop similar programs that promote inclusion for all. The first of its kind in Qatar, the program curriculum not only focuses on physical activity for differently abled individuals, but also targets their social development.

Data has been collected since the inception of the AF initiative in 2018 to capture the growth of the program. The survey, conducted by WISH, sought the views of parents and caregivers of the participants, in order to study the impact of the AF program in Qatar. The results show that, as a direct result of participating in the program, over 96% of respondents noticed a positive change in their child’s behavior, including increased self-confidence and improved communication skills, while over 98% said they would recommend the program to other parents with children with special needs, highlighting the quality of the program and the high demand for such services in Qatar.

Commenting on how the program was initiated, lead author, Maha El Akoum, Head of Content at WISH, said: “In 2016, WISH published a research report on Autism: A Global Framework for Action. Having examined the findings, our team saw an opportunity to use our parent organization, QF, as a platform to lead the introduction of ability-friendly programs within the community to complement Qatar’s National Autism Strategy. The remarkable results of this latest study are hugely encouraging, and we hope to use them to motivate other similar initiatives.”

According to a paper published in 2019 by PubMed, most individuals with disabilities do not regularly participate in sports, and the risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, is almost three times as high amongst this population than in people without disabilities.

The AF program incorporates a variety of sports activities including swimming, cricket and football lessons that are tailored specifically to children who have ASD, but is also adapted to cater to a wide age range of individuals, including those with Down syndrome, hearing, visual and physical impairments, as well as learning difficulties.

“By measuring its impact and publishing our learnings, our aim is to raise awareness of the importance of such programs and their impact on society, in order to drive future interest, investment and innovation in the field,” said El-Akoum.

In 2017, WISH collaborated with Liverpool Football Club (LFC) Foundation – the official charity of Liverpool Football Club – to host a football training course in QF’s Education City, with the aim of identifying and addressing effective ways in which to engage with children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or sensory or physical impairments. This event became the springboard that launched the program into Qatar’s wider community.

Highlighting a fundamental approach used in developing the program, QF’s Senior ASD Specialist and Head Coach, Ryan Moignard, said: “When we started out, the key to our success lay in completely integrating the program into our everyday activities, rather than treating it as a standalone initiative. This provided us with the widest scope possible, through which we could ensure that we could offer a range of services suitable for the largest section of the community”.


To find out more about the program, visit 

To read the full paper, visit

WISH is Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative. To read more about WISH, visit  

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