England’s opening match of the World Cup is set to become the first game in World Cup history to be played with special air-conditioning technology.
Fifa are preparing to take a match-by-match approach to their use of the cooling innovation inside Qatar’s eight tournament stadiums and they intend only to use the air-conditioning to ensure that games are not played at temperatures above 24C.
The Qatari air-conditioning systems can lower temperatures even during the searing summer months from well above 40C to below 20C but tournament organisers want to make the conditions as natural as possible.
Average yearly temperatures in Qatar during November and December are between 25C and 15C but day-time temperatures of up to 30C are forecast over the first week of the tournament.
In practice, this means that matches kicking off locally at 1pm and 4pm are most likely to use the air-conditioning for some or all of their matches, with organisers likely to turn off the air-conditioning around an hour before the evening matches.
Temperature readings and measurements will be constantly monitored at the relevant stadium on a match day.
The World Cup curtain-raiser between Qatar and Ecuador kicks off at 7pm locally whereas England’s game against Iran begins at 4pm on Monday in Doha (and 1pm in the UK) when the local temperature is forecast at 27C.
Cooling water breaks will also be recommended - subject to the match referee’s final decision - around both the 30th and 75th minute of matches if what is known as the ‘west bulb globe temperature’ is above 32C.
This is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover.
The England team have been acclimatising by training in the hottest part of the day but France midfielder Youssouf Fofana admitted on Saturday to concerns about the heat. “The heat is a bit much sometimes - but is the same for both teams and we will live with it,” said Fofana.
The technology works by creating a bubble of pressure and therefore a micro-climate inside the stadium that both cools and purifies the air.
How hot is it in Qatar?
Temperatures have been above the seasonal average ahead of the World Cup, regularly reaching more than 30C. The wall-to-wall sunshine is set to continue but the heat is forecast to dip below 30C when the tournament starts. The sun does set before 5pm and so the heat will be mitigated for later matches, with local kick-off times scheduled for 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm. Temperatures are still a huge difference from the 40C plus that are normal during the summer months when a World Cup is typically held.
Who invented the stadium air-conditioning?
Nicknamed Dr Cool, the air-conditioning technology inside the eight stadiums was invented by a man called Dr Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani. He is a Sudanese graduate of mechanical thermal fluids from Nottingham University and a former lecturer at universities in Warwick, Sheffield and Manchester. He told The Telegraph that the final test would be “a full stadium of 80,000 in Lusail” but, after numerous matches in other tournaments when the technology has worked perfectly, he is confident that there will be no hitch. “The first time is where you have always doubt. What if Mr Newton was not correct? But, at the Arab Cup, we had 67,000 people and it was 100% functioning.”
How does it work?
Air is pumped out from vents all around the stadium and a bubble of pressure is created inside the stadium bowl. “We maintain a bubble - and make sure it will not bust - by keeping the pressure different from outside,” explained Dr Saud. “The technology also cools the air and purifies it from pollen dust, human skin, human hair, and then gives it back. Up to 50 degrees I can provide between 24 and 18. We are not just cooling the air, we're cleaning it. We're purifying the air for spectators. People who have allergies won't have problems inside our stadiums. We have the cleanest and purest air there is." The stadium will be cooled for players as well as fans and it is even possible to provide different temperatures in different parts of the stadium.
Will all eight World Cup stadiums have the air-conditioning?
Yes, the systems will operate at all World Cup venues, but organisers are planning to take a match-by-match view on how it is used. They want conditions to remain as natural as possible but with no matches played above a temperature of 24C. Average yearly temperatures in Qatar during November and December are between 25C and 15C but day-time temperatures of up to 30C are forecast over the first week of the tournament.
This means that matches kicking off locally at 1pm and 4pm are most likely to use the air-conditioning for some or all of their matches, with organisers likely to turn off the air-conditioning around an hour before the evening matches.
How will it be used in the future?
The technology has not been patented and Dr Saud also believes that the air-conditioning can answer new challenges, from the 2026 World Cup in the heat of Mexico, the United States and Canada to rather loftier global problems. “The next challenge is agriculture,” he says. “We have the infrastructure to eliminate hunger.” The cost of the technology has not been disclosed and there has been debate over the environmental impact. It has been estimated by the national electricity company Kahramaa that 60 to 70% of the electricity produced in Qatar is devoted to air-conditioning and, while the stadiums only account for a tiny proportion, there are questions over whether directing such resource to eight venues is justifiable. The organisers have said that the air conditioning will account for only 20% of the stadiums annual electricity consumption. "The stadiums will be able to be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round," said Mr Saud.