The ‘coolest’ part of FIFA World Cup 2022

The cooling technology at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar is a first of its kind in world football; meet the doctor of this operation “cool”.

The Khalifa International Stadium is the world’s first air-conditioned open air property.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

December is a pleasant month in Qatar. The temperature reads 23 to 25 degrees in the morning and starts dipping from noon. Once the scorching sun starts its descent, people flip out their thin jackets and coats for a walk by the waterfront promenade.

This is good news as Qatar — the host for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 — is infamous for its heat, and many have cited the country’s soaring temperatures in questioning FIFA’s decision to award the quadrennial event to the Gulf state.

The World Cup, billed as perhaps the greatest sporting spectacle, earlier, too, has struggled to provide optimal playing conditions to the stars. In USA 1994, a few German and South Korean players felt the boiling turf through their shoes. The then Ireland manager Jack Charlton had to splash water on his players from the touchline. In Brazil 2014, the tournament witnessed cooling breaks.

But, Qatar 2022 is set for a winter release — a first-of-a-kind — but with the desert nearby and a record of 50 degrees in summer, the Arab nation found a home-grown solution that will accommodate football in every season. It will also minimise the risk of heat generation through player movement and action. The new ‘cooling technology’ could well make Qatar the ‘coolest’ World Cup host since England in 1966. The system will also serve as a model for prospective hosts in the future.

Sportstar visited the Khalifa International Stadium — the only complete superstructure, right now, for the grand event in 2022 — for a recce of the world’s first air-conditioned open air property. Dr Saud Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ghani, the engineer who led the innovation, highlighted the benefits and simplified the function of the air nozzles.

How it works

In a layman’s words, the system will act as larger-than-life air coolers for heat dissipation.

“Just because the tournament is in December, don’t think there won’t be heat. It is all about the thermal component. I can put you in a nice fridge at six degrees. You will feel stuffy although the temperature is cold. There will be no movement of air inside. We control the humidity first, and temperature second.

“If you are a player running around, you are generating heat. It will be trapped in your body and the thermal stress may knock you out,” Dr. Saud, who started the research in Qatar University three years ago, warned in a nutty-professor tone.

“The idea is to provide a thermal environment for the people, the players and the grass. We are collecting rain water, generating chilled water at night and storing it in a tank. The air will go through the cold medium that is chilled by the water,” he added.

Engineer Dr. Saud Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ghani led the innovation to find a home-grown solution to create a perfect playing field despite Qatar’s soaring temperatures.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya


Star feedback

The refurbished Khalifa opened its gates in the 2017 Emir Cup final. The technology brought down the temperature to 20 to 23 degrees in the field of play and spectator areas. The outside temperature was close to 37 degrees.

Former Spain star Xavi Hernandez, whose side Al Saad downed Al-Rayyan, gave his feedback to the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy. “We felt very well on the pitch because of the air-conditioning, I’m very proud of this project, and the first stadium for the World Cup — it is perfect,” he said.

Modes and censors

The system functions in two modes — athletic and field of play. The first will be tested during the World Athletics Championship to be held at the multi-purpose venue in 2019.

“We should also keep in mind that the air should not irritate people. Some may have irritation from cold air. It should be produced gently. There will be chips and nozzles underneath the seats, the channels will rotate to create gentle movement.

“This will be the first ever outdoor diffuser (made out of plastic). The raw materials have been sourced from India, China and South Korea,” Dr. Saud revealed.

He pointed at the stands trying to locate the strategically-placed censors. “It’s somewhere there. You can see it once you go closer. That monitors the temperature, velocity and humidity. It will control the zone it is placed at. Just like you control your home air-condition with a remote, we will be doing the same here from a control room.”

The 40,000-capacity Khalifa will have around 1,000 nozzles. Due to the old concrete, there couldn’t be heavy drilling. “The next ones (in the other seven stadiums) will be more efficient as we are providing nozzles for almost every spectator. It will also be 40 per cent cheaper.”

The cooling system could go as low as 15 degrees and the electricity consumed will be the same as that in an airport.

“This technology will also be needed in USA and Mexico in 2026. There are some areas of America which are really warm, even Mexico. They have to guarantee thermal comfort of the players,” Dr. Saud concluded.

The writer was in Qatar on an invitation by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy.