The Qatar World Cup: A Massive Desert Experiment

A Quick Overview: What world cup will this be?

In 2022, the 22nd World Cup Finals (if it goes ahead) in Qatar will be the first Arab country to ever host the competition, as well as it being the first time the competition will be held in the Middle East. This makes it quite a big deal for a few reasons: its opening up the biggest sports competition in the world (sorry Olympics) to this region of the world for the first time, while showcasing this part of the world to an audience of billions.There are just a few things though that spell trouble, and I'm not talking about FIFA here. For one, there is the big problem of Qatar being incredibly hot.

The average temperature in Qatar
The average temperature in Qatar | Source

Qatar is hot

If you ever see someone in Qatar walking around in a scarf, hat and gloves, chances are they have a cold or are just a bit crazy. The average low temperature in the country is a brisk 14°C (it very rarely gets anywhere near 10°C at any point in the year) during winter, but even on most days in the “colder” months you’re looking at an average of 20°C in the of middle of the day. That sounds like perfect conditions to play, unlike the average temperature of 40°C hits in the middle of summer, right?

This actually happens in the summer in Qatar
This actually happens in the summer in Qatar | Source

That presents a problem though...

What is one big thing all major sporting events have in common? They all take place in the summer time. The World Cup, Olympics, Euros, Wimbledon, The World Series etc. all have pride of place in the summer. It’s just how things are done. When the issue of Qatar being so freaking hot in the summer was raised, one solution was feasibly simple but presented a major headache to football associations around the world: move the competition to the middle of winter. This means that the World Cup will (possibly) be taking place from 21 November to 18 December.

This is when all major leagues are in the middle of competition. That broached the subject of what would happen to all countries who would effectively have to pause their leagues and championships for almost two months. It would be a massive headache both in terms of the status of one of the most popular times of year for football and what limitations countries would have on being able to pick their players. Could you imagine the FA here in the UK unable to pick top players from the Premier League simply because clubs wouldn’t want their top players going away for two months?

Everyone could be left with the possibility of a world cup comprised mainly of 2nd rate players from each country; something which doesn’t make for great competition.

What The Stadiums Look Like

Khalifa International Stadium

Still very much a work in progress.
Still very much a work in progress.

Qatar doesn’t actually have any stadiums ready

When the World Cup takes place, it is usually in a country that already has a lot of stadiums, or will be constructing 2 or 3 new stadiums that will be beneficial for local league teams after the tournament (think of West Ham getting the Olympic Stadium or Man City getting the Eithad after the Commonwealth Games).

At the time of writing this, the Wikipedia page for the Qatar World Cup claims that there are 12 stadiums which will be used; 3 of these are existing stadiums which will have their capacity extended. The other 9 don’t exist yet.

Al Bayt Stadium

Imagine watching a world cup game in a tent!
Imagine watching a world cup game in a tent!

Although that’s not to say they’ll be unique

A quick browse through the stadiums that will be planned and it is safe to say that there will be at least some incredible looking buildings currently in different stages of construction. One of the best I came across is the Al Bayt Stadium, which will be the most northerly stadium in the competition.

The entire structure is going to be wrapped up around a massive plinth that will make the 45,000 seater space look like one massive Bedouin style tent planted on the edge of the desert. When its complete it will unlike any other stadium seen before and arguably be one of the first to look like the area it comes from (think of Brazil and South Africa’s recent tournaments for examples and not one of their stadiums stand out as being memorable)

Where The Stadiums Are Located

A map highlighting distance between each ground.
A map highlighting distance between each ground.

And it’ll be easy to get around (sort of)

We’ve all been there. You’re watching the World Cup at home and when you see a map of the country and you wonder how everyone is handling travel hundreds of miles from one location to the next to see their country play. Well Doha isn’t like that at all. It is roughly 45 miles wide and 100 miles long, and with much of the country effectively a desert, most people live on the east side of the country facing the Persian Gulf.

Now as a general rule which was meant to bring the tournament within a good distance to people all over a country, a World Cup is never supposed to have games played in a city with 2 stadiums (i.e. if the tournament was in the UK, London wouldn’t be allowed to hold games at Wembley and also at any location like the Emirates, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane etc.)

Qatar doesn’t really have cities though; it has administrative districts that are made up of suburbs. This means that when the bid went through, Qatar automatically became home to the most compact World Cup in history. Just how compact am I talking? Well if we were drawing a Dot To Dot from each stadium to the next, there would never be a distance greater than 12 miles between each one. And while this is great if you’re aiming to see multiple games in a day, it could pose a logistical nightmare for the country when roughly 3 million people all come at once and are trying to get from point A to B in a hurry.

Not every country has tigers on the highway

So back to the heat

Walking in a room by yourself on a hot night means you might have to crack a window open to keep the place nice and cool. Walking in to a stadium when you’re one of 86,000 people to watch the opening and closing games of the World Cup means you might have to hope that there’s more than window nearby when it’s 25°C at night.

A big challenge of this tournament will be making sure players and those in attendance aren’t constantly suffering from the heat. Developers of the stadiums are promising that the heat won’t be a problem for anyone in attendance. For the main stadium, the Lusail Iconis Stadium, they are actually planning on using cooling technologies in the stadium to artificially lower the temperature around the pitch. This will involve using a slew of industrial chillers and an air conditioning flow systems unlike anything ever seen before.

Testing Grass

All the types of grass under inspection to see which works best in the climate.
All the types of grass under inspection to see which works best in the climate. | Source

And the pitch is even being put to the test

Name one thing that doesn’t do well in deserts. If you said water, yes you’re right, but keep in mind we’re discussing the beautiful game here, so if you said grass, well done!

Even though it’s still a few years until a ball is even kicked, Agrostrologists (that’s people who study grass) are hard at work trying to figure out which type of grass will work best in the dry atmosphere. Pitches for the World Cup have to be of the highest quality and it is taken quite seriously. Currently there are 12 types of grass being tested in varying scenarios to see if they’re up to scratch. Some patches are being cared for in the shade, while others are being left out in the sun. It can take up to a year for a pitch for fully grow, so every little test to see whether a pitch that sits out in the sun for a few hours a day can help with ball movement is actually quite important.

It’s believed that when the scientists start gathering the data for what works best, there’s a chance this could result in football pitches being cheaper to grow and maintain in the Middle East, and who says football doesn’t do us the world of good?

It’s all a bit much, but still exciting

Of course there are a lot of different factors at play in terms of these stadiums getting built. I think 4 are currently under construction, while 5 still haven’t even had a foundation stone laid down. With just 6 years to go, it’s an interesting story to keep an eye on; especially if for some reason the event doesn’t get the go ahead and has to switch host (and just so FIFA know, I live not that far from St James Park).

If we do get the World Cup in Qatar, it will be a truly unique event for the region and one which hopefully opens the door for football to become a major sport there.

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