How does the World Cup keep its cool?

5 min read

Temperature tends to be mentioned metaphorically in sports, and this year’s World Cup was no exception. After each game, statistics sites churned out players’ heat maps. Social media circulated clips of players clashing on the pitch while journalists wrote about tempers flaring. Aschraf Hakimi scored a gutsy panenka penalty to send Morocco into the quarter finals; his display of such skill under high pressure was hailed as ice cold.

But before the tournament started, temperature was a literal concern.

FIFA shocked the world when it chose Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. Amongst the concerns was the local climate: the World Cup is traditionally held in June, when Qatar’s daytime temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees. Would Qatar be too hot for the world’s biggest sporting event?

Here are the off-pitch tactics that kept the World Cup at enjoyable temperatures for everyone who made the trip.

1: Move the date

As you can see, the World Cup only took place now, at the end of the year. Winter temperatures in Qatar are a more palatable 25-30 degrees C. This is a lot more comfortable than 40+ degrees in the summer.

This is the first World Cup to be moved from its traditional mid-year fixture, but it is not the first football tournament to be moved due to local climate. Last year’s African Cup of Nations was also moved from July to December to avoid host nation Cameroon’s rainy season.

2: Reflect the heat

A quick image search reveals one obvious commonality across the eight World Cup stadiums: the colour white.

That is no coincidence. Besides aesthetics, white reflects more light, directing some of the sun’s rays away from the stadium. The sloping curves of the Al Bayt stadium were meant to have black markings to more closely represent the nomadic tents inspiring the design. However, black is a notorious heat absorber, so the final design kept the roof all-white.

Al Bayt stadium. Image source: Dar Al-Handasah

The angle of the facades further help to reflect the sunlight off the stadium. In the middle of the ‘tent’, a retractable roof can be closed over the pitch to regulate shade and indoor temperature, which then reduces the load on electrical air-conditioning. Al Janoub stadium also has a retractable roof.

Retractable roof of the Al Bayt stadium. Image source: Stir World

3: Air-conditioning only where you need it

Modern sports stadiums are grand structures, the aesthetic and design almost as important as the events they host. They need to look good in the drone footage broadcasted on televisions all around the globe. And they need to seat upwards of 40,000 people. They are voluminous.

But not all that volume needs to be air-conditioned. Much of it is just empty air above the pitch (until mankind invents anti-gravity technology to float spectators overhead like the Galactic Senate from Star Wars.) Trying to cool all that air would be energy-intensive, inefficient, and redundant.

Instead, only the lower layer of air, up to 2-3 metres above the pitch and stands – where the players and fans are – needs to be cooled. The vents that blow cool air into the stadium are located underseat in the stands, right where the people are, as opposed to traditional ceiling or wall-mounted air-conditioners.

Inside the stadium, the air eventually warms up again and rises. Vents above the seats suck this warm air back to be filtered and re-cooled, so it can be used again. This concept of recirculation is also used in fishing and farming.

4: The power of nature

Stadium 974 stands out in name and appearance. One look is enough to see that it bucks the aforementioned trend of classy-looking white stadiums. Rather, it resembles an ongoing BTO flat construction.

Stadium 974. Image source: Fenwick Iribarren Architects

The modular stadium is constructed with used shipping containers (974, to be exact, hence the name), a call out to the nearby Doha port. Its coastal neighbourhood experiences land and sea breeze due to its proximity to the gulf. It would be a shame if solid stadium walls blocked the breeze, so the stadium design includes carefully calculated gaps in between the container modules, as well as individual seats. This maximises natural ventilation, allowing the stadium to function without air-conditioning!

Qatar had invested heavily in fluid dynamics research as part of its preparations for the World Cup. The direction, speed, and movement of air in and around its stadiums have all been carefully calibrated to keep users cool at maximum efficiency. So while things boiled over on the field, the fans could enjoy the drama in relative comfort.

Written by Ellen Ng


How do you air-condition a World Cup? by Tifo Football
Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah
This FIFA World Cup stadium was built using 974 shipping containers, but there’s more


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