When Qatar, a small yet rich middle-east country, won the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup, several eyebrows were raised across the footballing world.
Here was a country which had a population of just over 2.6 million with no great footballing history to boast of, aspiring to host the greatest spectacle in the game. Its national team had never participated in the World Cup on merit before. The climate conditions were harsh and arid during the summer months of June and July, which is when the World Cup would traditionally be held.
However, being one of the most prosperous countries with the highest per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the world of almost $128,702, Qatar had a clear plan to silence their critics.
They invested heavily into technology and innovation, coming up with game changing ideas that have the potential to revolutionise sport at large. Which leaves a very plausible thought in one’s mind - will the technology on show be the greatest legacy of Qatar 2022?
To alleviate the concerns of hosting the World Cup during the searingly hot summer months, it was proposed that the tournament be shifted to November and December when Qatar experiences moderate weather conditions.
Qatar proposed to build seven new stadiums from scratch with state-of-the-art technology for the World Cup and refurbish the existing Khalifa international stadium. All eight stadiums are located close to each other, which would mean players and fans do not have to traverse long distances to follow the games.
Apart from brilliant designs that incorporated the most modern architecture and cultural highlights of Qatar, they also had never-seen-before innovation like the stadium cooling technology which will keep the stadium atmosphere at a comfortable 23-25 degree celsius. Not only would it help the fans enjoy the games at leisure, the quality of air produced was controlled so as to induce the best performances from the footballers, thereby raising the standard of football on offer.
The effectiveness of the cooling tech has already been demonstrated at the Khalifa International and the Al Janoub stadiums. What has to be noted is that Qatar’s team of experts formulated the air regulations and more after extensive research, carried out throughout the globe.
But even as work progressed quickly on the stadium sites and related infrastructure projects, concerns rose over the working conditions and treatment that the labourers at the construction sites had to face with various international organisations highlighting them.
However, once again, Qatar resorted to technology to rectify the situation. They came up with special helmets which used a solar-powered fan to blow air over a cooled material at the top of the helmet in order to reduce the skin temperature of the construction workers. Qatar also innovated a coating which can withstand 45 minutes of heat by using a polystyrene material which incorporates silica aerogel. In fact, a cooling workwear range adapted to the country's requirements was introduced.
This is apart from the various social solutions that Qatar introduced that found a lot of success. Qatar’s Worker’s Welfare Forums and other grievance redressal platforms helped them improve the labourers’ standards. In fact, in 2017, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) hailed the reforms introduced by Qatar to protect the human rights of migrant workers.
Now, another point of criticism was the lack of footballing history. Qatar’s national team had not won any major tournaments and was not a major force on the continent, let alone globally. But with astute long-term planning, Qatar developed an extremely competent football team that has set the continent alight of late. In fact, the young Maroons obliterated some of Asia’s giants such as Japan, South Korea, UAE and Saudi Arabia as they romped their way to the 2019 Asian Cup title, cementing their status as the best team in the continent.
The technically advanced Aspire Academy in Doha deserves a lot of credit for this. The money invested in the world-class technology at Aspire has helped many of Qatar’s national team players to achieve their potential.
Now comes the concept of Challenge 22. Introduced by the Supreme Committee of Delivery & Legacy (SC) in 2015 as an innovation award, it challenges the creative and technological minds to find solutions in certain sectors which have been identified as ‘challenging’ by the organizers.
Winning ideas so far have included several brilliant ones which will be encouraged and adopted during the 2022 World Cup. Examples include Bonocle, a next-generation assistive technology that will help the visually impaired access to digital content and enjoy the World Cup. Then there is Eila, a chatbot which will allow attendees to order food, drinks or even merchandise right to their seats.
Imagine following your favourite team real time with tailor-made updates while driving! How about a smart football jersey which would wirelessly track the ECG signals of players’ hearts in real time which would help detect any abnormalities and predict cardiac events, thus potentially helping save thousands of lives - these are a few of the ideas that have conceptualised from Challenge 22.
"Criticism is a part of hosting a tournament of this magnitude. And I do think that Qatar has its fair share of criticism. It started off right from the time we submitted our bid. Worker's welfare was one of the biggest challenges for us. As a country, we are happy to progress on worker's welfare and in terms of revamping the standards of worker's rights we have probably become the leading nation in the region. That's something we are very proud of. Now, we will see what criticism comes up next," said Nasser Al-Khater, CEO of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Innovation and technology has helped Qatar solve every problem or criticism that has befallen them and it has led to a boom of sorts. The biggest takeaway from the technological boom that Qatar is overseeing might be that these have the potential to be of help to the world even after the World Cup in a wide range of avenues, not just sporting.