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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guest Column: Qatar currently unlikely to hold summer world cup with current cooling technology

By John Hunt

There’s something unusual about the continued anger surrounding FIFA’s decision to stage the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

As a general rule of thumb, when a particularly egregious pass is reached – and Qatar’s bid victory certainly falls into this category – the vox populi tends to quieten with the passage of time, but not on this occasion.

FIFA’s decision still vexes a great many people who have a passion for soccer because asking players, officials, fans and media to convene in the tiny, 50 degrees Centigrade+ in summer city-state of Qatar a decade hence might not only be fatal for some. It is basically vulgar of FIFA to think that this is a request that finds favour with any majority; not that FIFA is particularly bothered what anyone thinks, as it continues to demonstrate on a depressingly regular basis.

But what if I were to suggest that the 2022 World Cup won’t actually be taking place in Qatar or, most certainly, not in Qatar’s summer? If you were a Qatari, you might well be outraged but I’m afraid this suggestion would find favour with millions, perhaps tens of millions. Popular reception aside, it’s absolutely true, as things stand, the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar’s summer months.

One can accept that the dozen stadiums that needed to be built in a decade, and one can even accept that 32 separate training facilities, one for each of the competing teams, can be built, as well as dozens of fan zones and the dozens of hotels to house the hordes. Once cannot, however, accept that carbon-neutral ‘chilled air’ cooling technology – a cornerstone of the Qatari bid – will be able to cool all of these structures in combating the brutal summer heat. Why can one not accept this? Simply put, the technology doesn’t actually work on the required scale. The technology doesn’t exist.

When I was living in Doha last year I was party to a demonstration of the cooling technology on a micro scale. About five miles outside the city stands an indoor arena containing 500 seats and a playing area about the size of a basketball court. The solar-powered, heat-exchanging apparatus that fills this tiny space with chilled air works a treat. But the 2022 World Cup Final match is due to be played at the yet to be built 86,000-seat Lusail Iconic Arena in the planned city of Lusail to Doha’s north. That’s over 170 times as many seats to cool as in the demonstration, in a total area well over 170 times as large, and without a roof. And this task needs to be repeated times 12. It’s not just a tall order, it’s currently impossible, and herein lies the rub.

Qatar is relying on the cooling technology evolving to the extent where what is currently impossible is no longer so. This is, to put it mildly, risky. There’s far less than 11 years to get it right – these stadiums and the cooling technology will need to be built and fully operational in a little over seven years. Tick tock.

On a personal level, I think that ‘risky’ is not the right adjective. I think ‘impudent’ more apt. I don’t think it right or proper that Qatar bases its hosting of the world’s most eminent sporting spectacle on technology that doesn’t exist, and with no guarantee that it ever will.

FIFA’s inspection committee recognised this fact when evaluating Qatar’s bid as by far the poorest of the nine 2018 and 2022 submissions, but they got the nod anyway, while humiliating Australia for good measure – the energetic hosts of what is generally accepted to have been the finest Olympic Games of the modern era.

Speaking of the Olympics, I can probably run 100 metres in about 18 seconds – I’m too short and overweight to go any faster. If I emailed the International Olympic Committee and told them I would be able to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds by 2020, do you think they’d give me a starting lane in the final? I’m just curious, as FIFA certainly believes access to global sporting events should be given on trust.

 This one, no pun intended, is set to run and run but a 2022 World Cup in Qatar’s summer is, at present, just not viable. Unless we see a pivotal advance in the much-vaunted yet currently mythical cooling technology on the macro scale in the very near future - in football terms, I’d say this means a couple of years tops - then the 2022 tournament will not be taking place in Qatar’s summer. Winter perhaps, or not at all. My gut feeling leans towards the latter, as the heat is only one of at least a dozen reasons why Qatar has no business hosting a World Cup. The paradox is, if the tournament does take place in the peninsula’s cruel summer, these reasons will become apparent; painfully so.

John hunt is a journalist who saw Qatar’s cooling technology demonstrated. Mr. Hunt's views are his own.

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