Ever since Qatar was awarded the World Cup back in 2010, there’s been nothing but controversy. Most recently, there have involved allegations of corruption over the how soccer’s greatest tournament was awarded to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022—Fifa’s ethics committee looked into the decisions but the federation’s president, Sepp Blatter, has suppressed the report. He’s lucky Fifa is based in Switzerland, which has an interesting definition of private corruption.
But the main issue with holding the World Cup in Qatari was obvious from the moment the tiny, but super-rich nation first bid for the tournament: the heat. The World Cup is held in the summer, when temperatures soar to 50C (122F) in the middle of the day. Fifa’s Sepp Blatter has indicated that the World Cup could move to winter for the first time in 92 years to cope with this—despite opposition from the European leagues, the Olympics Winter Games, and almost every soccer fan.
Other alternatives have been suggested, but most are just bizarre:
Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the former head of Chilean soccer, on Tuesday suggested moving the tournament to May, rather than the traditional June-July months, and staggering the matches well into the evening. “You could play the first games at 7 p.m., the second games at 10 p.m. and the third matches at 1 a.m.,” he told the BBC. “I know it’s not easy. We’d sleep during the day and work during the night.”
It makes no sense to take the world’s finest athletes and thousands of fans to one of the hottest places on Earth, then require them to change their circadian rhythms. “It’s only an idea,” Mayne-Nicholls said. Let’s keep it that way.
Qatar bid for the World Cup by promising its stadiums (which are all being built from scratch) would have state-of-the-art air-conditioning systems to keep spectators, if not the players, at a constant 26C. The architecture firm Populous, which is designing the Sports City stadium, built a small prototype in Doha to persuade Fifa it could work as well as the baseball stadiums the firm has built in places like Texas.
But the firm has now abandoned that idea as expensive and unworkable. “We are doing away with all the air conditioning kit that is going to cost a fortune to run,” Populous said, replacing them with more simple cooling wind towers. As for the promised temperature, a director of the firm said: “It doesn’t need to be 26 degrees. Fan expectation needs to be more relaxed.”
Flying robot clouds
One of the suggestions to protect everyone from the glaring heat of the sun is to block it with giant hovering robotic clouds over the venues. The clouds would really be massive solar-powered blimps filled with helium: they would float above the stadiums and act as umbrellas, moving with the axis of the sun. Each would only cost a mere $500,000.
One Fifa member has suggested that the tournament should not be held in the desert state… for fear of prosecution. “I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar,” said Germany’s Theo Zwanziger. “They may be able to cool the stadiums, but a World Cup does not take place only there. Fans from around the world will be coming and traveling in this heat, and the first life-threatening case will trigger an investigation by a state prosecutor.”
Except, of course, that the state is Qatar, not known for its concern for the rights of foreigners: just look at how it has been treating the people building those stadiums.
Perhaps the most workable suggestion comes from Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, which governs soccer in Europe: if those allegations of corruption are proven to be true, there should be a re-vote, stripping Qatar of its right to host the event.
That supposes Fifa is capable of dealing with corruption in its own ranks. Good luck with that.