Football and Technology: The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be Qatar’s Chance to Show its “Cool” Stadiums

Image of Clements Lisi

The upcoming World Cup in Qatar will be groundbreaking in many ways when the host nation takes on Ecuador on November 20 at the Al Bayt Stadium. Aside from being the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world, Qatar 2022 will also be historic for its ability to have all eight outdoor stadiums use air conditioning to combat the hot temperatures. 

Unlike previous FIFA World Cups, typically played in June and July, the 2022 tournament will be played in November and December to avoid the intense Qatari summer. Another way to mitigate the heat will be a new cooling technology never used before at a World Cup. 

The technology, first developed with help from Qatar University in 2009, uses solar energy to power ventilators that pull in outside air and cool it inside the venue.

Dr. Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Qatar University, told “When we were preparing our submission for the World Cup in 2022, we wanted a unique bid that would stand out among other bidding countries. Most countries would usually present their stadiums as a design idea and not a technology. We presented our stadiums in a new way – as a technology.”

New technologies at a World Cup are nothing new. Commercial transatlantic flights, which were first popularized in the 1950s, made it easier for teams to travel by air. The 1930 World Cup held in Uruguay, for example, featured France, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Romania, Belgium, and the United States all making the trek to Montevideo by ship.

The evolution of television helped to popularize the World Cup. The first FIFA World Cup match that aired on TV was in 1954. The 1966 tournament could be seen both live and in color. It had been possible on a smaller scale, but due to the use of satellites, the tournament could reach a worldwide audience in real time for the very first time.  

At the time of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, for example, teams began to first embrace the use of analytics. Goal-line technology—the ability to track the position of the ball with the help of cameras to cut down on human error—came into play at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Four years later, the use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was first used at the World Cup in Russia and is now a staple of the sport at the pro level across the world. In Qatar, a semi-automated offside technology will also be used to reduce the number of bad calls.  

But the cooling technology inside the stadiums will be one of the biggest innovations in the tournament’s 92-year history. Using a combination of insulation and what Dr. Saud calls “targeted or spot cooling,” the stadium acts as a barrier to outside air and utilizes a zero carbon footprint. No matter the weather outside, organizers have said all venues will be cooled to a comfortable 23.8 degrees Celsius.  

“We are not just cooling the air, we’re cleaning it,” added Dr. Saud, who is nicknamed “Dr. Cool” given his area of research. “We’re purifying the air for spectators. For example, people who have allergies won’t have problems inside our stadiums. We have the cleanest and purest air there is.”

Dr. Saud said the cooling technology could be adopted by Qatar again in the future and other countries with warm climates looking to host large-scale events.

Article by Clemente Lisi, affiliate assistant professor of journalism at The King’s College in New York City and co-director of the NYC Semester in Journalism program.

Clemente Lisi has worked as a journalist, editor, and professor. In that time, he has been an editor at major metropolitan dailies such as the New York Post and the New York Daily News and served as senior editor at ABC News Digital. He is the author of The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team: An American Success Story, and A History of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team

His new book, The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event, can be purchased here.

Read more about the Building a Legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 project here.

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