Sheffield's cool: How city brightest minds are helping to ensure Qatar's World Cup in 2022 is a chilled-out event

A computer image of the 'Lusail' stadium, designed by Biritish architect Norman Foster, for the FIFA World Cup 2022, to be built in Doha, Qatar.
A computer image of the 'Lusail' stadium, designed by Biritish architect Norman Foster, for the FIFA World Cup 2022, to be built in Doha, Qatar.
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Qatar's attempt to keep fans and players from over-heating at the 2022 World Cup will hinge on a cooling system co-designed in Sheffield.

When Qatar won the right to stage the tournament in 2010, much was made of its claims that new air-conditioning technology at its venues would reduce the desert state's searing summer temperatures.

Fears about the effectiveness of that technology, its environmental impact and the fact nothing could be done to reduce outside temperatures led FIFA in 2015 to move the tournament to November and December.

But even in an Arabian winter, when the outside temperature is more like 25 degrees, the heat inside a packed stadium would reach 30 degrees without a cooling system.

This is where Dr Ben Hughes' team at Sheffield University and their research partners at Qatar University come in.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, "It will be on full blast trying to get there. That's what a football stadium without a roof is like.

"Normal air conditioning wouldn't work. The temperature wouldn't be stable and the huge flow of air would potentially interfere with the field of play."

So engineers at Sheffield University's Energy 2050 institute started to look at an old idea - capturing air via wind towers, passing it over pipes of cold water in underground chambers in central locations and then pumping it out to cool groups of buildings.

Used in traditional architecture across the Middle East for centuries, the idea of passive cooling, on a district basis, is back in vogue as it is cheaper and greener than air conditioning.

"About 80 per cent of people in the UK set the air conditioning for 21 degrees but in hot countries it's more like 17 or 18 degrees. In Qatar, it can be 40 degrees outside but shopping malls will be 17 degrees," explained Hughes.

"Three quarters of all energy consumption in those hot countries can be air conditioning.

"You can't keep everybody happy but we started by doing mathematical models to work out acceptable temperature ranges for players and fans and we worked backwards from there.

"We did the computer modelling and wind-tunnel work in Sheffield, Qatar University did the live tests. It took three years and now the first of the stadiums has been rolled out, plus the concourse and transfer zones.

"We're aiming for a range of 24-26 degrees but could get it down to 21 degrees. And we think we can halve the total energy consumption."

The first venue with this system is the Khalifa International Stadium, which was built in 1976 but reopened last month after extensive refurbishment and is set to host the World Athletics Championships in 2019 and World Cup games in 2022.

Hughes said the project started before the 2022 World Cup was moved to the winter and could have delivered acceptable temperatures in venues even in June and July, although doing it in December is much easier.

He also said the research team had studied previous World Cups with high temperatures, such as the 1994 World Cup in the United States or 2006 tournament in Germany, to work out the amount of stress players experienced.

As a result, Hughes is confident heat in Qatar will not be the factor many have feared and is optimistic about the benefits of the technology for the region and the United Kingdom's chances of tapping into the Qatari construction boom.

The latter, of course, is not without controversy, as the country's treatment of its army of migrant workers has been strongly criticised and several organisations have expressed major concerns about safety in the construction industry in Qatar and neighbouring countries.

But FIFA and the Qataris are adamant things are improving and Hughes is nothing but complimentary about his Qatari colleagues, although he is clearly an optimist.

"I'd like to think they could get me a ticket to the final to see England play," he said.

"Well, we can all dream, can't we?"

From Press Association