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FIFA World Cup in Qatar: AC stadiums show how technology is shaping sports

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Though it’s the first time such a big sports event is happening in the Middle East, with average maximum temperatures reaching 85.1°F (29.5°C), there will also be a lot of attention on the cooling technology that Doha has introduced to help athletes, officials, and spectators stay cool during the tense matches.
Coming in November and December, football fans and players will witness a special FIFA World Cup in Qatar .
Parts of the air conditioner are seen at the Education City Stadium for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Players and fans may face hot and humid conditions, but Doha’s adopted cooling technology is to make the event comfortable.
Players and fans may face hot and humid conditions, but Doha’s adopted cooling technology is to make the event comfortable.
“The cooling system is an important technology for Stadiums in Qatar to allow maximization of the use of these venues to host events at different times of the year,” Dr. Mahfoud Amara, associate professor of Sport Management and Social Sciences at Qatar University, told Interesting Engineering (IE).
“The temperature can be adjusted to allow ideal conditions for both athletes and fans alike.”
Qatar, which by some accounts is 4th amongst the top 20 hottest countries in the world, has used its immense wealth to transform a mostly desert landscape, incorporating a large number of ‘cool’ architectural marvels, including futuristic skyscrapers and incredible structures designed by world-renowned architects like I.M. Pei, Jean Nouvel, and Zaha Hadid.
The small peninsula on the edge of the Persian Gulf has recently added even more pearls to its beautiful architectural necklace, including enormous skyscrapers, opulent five-star hotels, iconic museums and galleries, and now world-class football stadiums.
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Official Countdown Clock at Doha corniche. Hasan Zaidi/iStock
As the oil-rich country begins its FIFA countdown, one of the most hailed advancements it has achieved is its cooling technology.
While it can reach 50 Degrees Celsius (°C) or 122 Fahrenheit (°F) in summer, sophisticated cooling technology is vital to allowing anything resembling normal life.
Technology as bid
When the tiny Gulf nation made its bid for the cup in 2010, many questioned how the country would cope with mitigating the heat.
Al Janoub stadium in Al Wakrah was build specially for FIFA World Cup 2022. OSTILL/iStock
The heat “has to be considered as a potential health risk,” according to Fifa’s own assessment of Qatar’s bid to host the event. A summer event was labeled as too “high risk” in a technical study.
However, the organizers professed to have a fix. Qatar pledged throughout the bidding process to use cutting-edge air conditioning equipment to cool stadiums, practice fields, and spectator zones to 23 C.
The Qatar Showcase, a 500-seat prototype stadium created by the British company Arup, was constructed to show how the system might function.
The prototype provided support which allowed Qatar to win the bid to host the games. When doubts were raised regarding the technology, which has never been employed on this scale, the World Cup organizing body in Qatar asserted that the games would still take place in the summer and air conditioning would be provided as promised.
But to reduce risk, the event was later shifted to the late autumn-early winter dates by FIFA authorities, when the weather is still hot but less life-threatening.
View of 974 stadium in Qatar. It has been built with cargo containers. Shakeel Sha/iStock
“The World Cup will be held in November -December which means that the need for cooling technology would be less. However, Qatar is aiming as part of its sports strategy to host different events and competitions at different times of the year,” said Dr. Amara.
“Having the technology would give Qatar a competitive advantage in hosting regional and international events,” he added.
Cooling technology that helped Qatar’s FIFA dreams
The engineer behind the cooling technologies for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums, is Sudan-born Dr. Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani, nicknamed “Dr. Cool,” who was inspired by his Ph.D. study on air conditioning for a car.
“The reason I joined the 2022 team was to serve the Arab region so that people here appear to others around the world in a different light,” Dr. Ghani, told reporters in 2019.
“The Middle East has a lot to offer and there’s nothing better than football to show that.”
Parts of the air conditioner are seen at the Education City Stadium for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Etsuo Hara/Getty Images
Dr. Ghani’s goal was to establish and keep a microclimate bubble inside the stadium, which is a process that is inherently more difficult in open-air stadiums.
“The biggest challenge in cooling an open-air stadium is stopping outside warm air from entering it – the defining of the interaction boundary between the inside microbubble and the outside macro climate,” he explained.
“This meant that a detailed aerodynamic analysis needed to be done on the stadium form and footprint to better understand how to use its design to minimize the infiltration of the warm air into the stadium.”
Dr. Ghani got to work by printing scale models of the potential World Cup stadiums in 3D.
The 3D-printed stadium models were tested for aerodynamics in a wind tunnel to determine how their shape and size interacted with the wind and how it could be improved.
“After the 3D printed model was placed in the wind tunnel, smoke – representing wind – was pushed out at different pressures to test how the design reacted to wind at different speeds and various incoming directions,” said Dr. Ghani.
Aerial view of Al Thumama stadium, one of the 8 FIFA 2022 world cup stadiums in Qatar. Guillaume Halleux/iStock
Dr. Ghani and his team of researchers examined the airflow across the design, including how air enters and exits the stadium, using laser sheets and cameras.
The temperature at each layer was calculated from the observations using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis. Numerical simulations were run using different variables, such as the number of fans and the amount of perspiration produced, to determine how these would affect the temperature distribution inside the stadium.
This phase was essential to ensuring that the adaptive aerodynamic design of the stadiums would aid in cooling rather than hinder it. For instance, it was vital to optimize the size of the oculus, the stadium’s entrance at the top, to guarantee that warm air does not enter the arena. It was also important to have a wide roof, which offered significant shade and eased the strain on the sophisticated cooling systems.
“Pumping out huge amounts of cold air to cool the entire open space is inefficient at best. We pump the exact amount of cold air into the exact place, maintain it and contain it—then recycle it all.”
Built to resemble an Arabic tent, Al-Bayt stadium will hold the opening ceremony and matches of 2022 FIFA World Cup. Mabdelrazek/iStock
After coming to this insight, Dr. Ghani and his team set about creating a mechanism for spot cooling that only chilled the intended areas. The team developed a cutting-edge cooling technique after doing significant testing and research. It uses smaller air diffusers under each spectator’s seat to blow cold air at ankle level onto fans, and football-sized nozzles alongside the field to cool the playing field.
The two cold air supply systems work in tandem to replicate a natural cooling breeze. In addition to being novel, Dr. Ghani’s strategy is long-lasting. The air is then pulled back, cooled again, and forced out using the air circulation technique. This recycling process of re-cooling air from inside the already cooled stadium rather than bringing in hot air from the outside and cooling that is much more energy efficient, according to Dr. Ghani.
How does it work for the spectators?
Al Jazeera’s senior photojournalist, Sorin Furqoi, who has spent years traveling to several stadiums in the Gulf region to cover sporting events for the media house, was contacted by IE to find out how it would feel during a game. According to him, the air conditioning “does a terrific job.”
“I was at the first official match taking place at Lusail stadium and at the pitch level it got a bit too cold, especially after sitting for 45 mins in one spot,” Furqoi, senior journalist at Al Jazeera, told IE.
Lusail football Stadium, in Qatar. Shakeel Sha/iStock
The inaugural competitive game at the Lusail Stadium was played on August 12, at the height of summer. “While outside the temperature was 38°C [100 °F] with some 50-60% humidity,” said Furqoi. The same stadium will host the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final on December 18, 2022.
Sustainable building techniques were used throughout the development and construction of Lusail Stadium, in keeping with FIFA’s goal to produce a green tournament.
“The higher you go in the stadium, the hotter it gets, but I went about halfway up in the stands and the temperature was comfortable,” said Furqoi.
Khalifa International Stadium in Doha at night. emson/iStock
“On a previous occasion I went all the way up to the top seats in Khalifa International Stadium, and It was just as hot as outside the stadium, but from the pitch level till about halfway up it was the same – the temperature was a bit too cold to be comfortable,” Furqoi recalled.
“You have to take into consideration that in all these stadiums you can seat at least 20 thousand people in the seats on the first half of the sitting area. This tech keeps 20k+ people and the pitch area cool.”
PTFE, a cutting-edge polymer, is also used to shield the stadium from heated winds, prevent dust from entering, enable adequate light for the pitch, and provide shade to lessen the demand on the air conditioning system.
The stadium’s cooling technology serves as a testbed for an innovative cooling method that has subsequently been used in a number of venues throughout Qatar, raising the hopes of other hot Gulf nations that they too can aspire to host big world tournaments like the World Cup in the future.

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