Qatar World Cup: The country’s revolutionary technology to cool stadiums in the middle of the desert

“Doctor. Cold”

The man who devised the entire system, engineer Saud Abdul-Ghani, known as “Dr. Cold” told the BBC that Qatar wants to create a legacy and serve the country long after the footballers have returned home.

Saud Abdul Ghani showing off the cooling system at Al Yanub Stadium in April 2022 in Doha.

He says years of research have gone into what he calls “thermal comfort,” creating a pleasant environment for as many people as possible. Discussions with athletes and fans at the 2019 World Championships in Athletics, which took place in Qatar, helped create a design that would benefit both visitors and players at the World Cup.

player perspective

The BBC has reached out to Hajar Saleh, a defender for the Qatar women’s national football team and a player since she was 11 years old. She knows very well the demands of high-level sport in extreme conditions and points out that humidity is the biggest challenge.

Qatar Women's National Team Defender Hajar Saleh

We’re used to the heat, but when you combine heat and humidity, things get a little trickier
Hajar Saleh

Hajer had direct experience playing in two of the newly air-conditioned World Cup stadiums, Khalifa International Stadium and Education City Stadium.

She says these systems make a huge difference, especially when playing in June, one of the hottest months of the year in Qatar.

Is it a sustainable system?

Qatar 2022 organizers said the energy needed to cool the stadiums will not generate additional greenhouse gas emissions, as the electricity comes from the installation of new solar panels.

Solar panels in Qatar, part of the technology "Zero carbon" The country confirms that it was used to cool stadiums and that it was included from the start in the World Cup candidacy.

But ensuring the entire tournament is carbon-neutral is an even bolder goal.

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The amount of “embedded” carbon, i.e. the emissions produced during the construction of the stadiums, accounts for 90% of the total carbon footprint of the facilities, with an estimated 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of driving a passenger car around the world 80,000 times, according to a US Environmental Protection Agency emissions calculation.

Outside the stadiums, there is also the impact of relocation to the World Cup, including flights to bring fans to Qatar.

Fifa says the compact nature of the tournament, with short distances between stadiums, means emissions from traveling between World Cup matches will be less than a third of those produced at Russia 2018.

Qatar’s green pledges are based on the use of carbon offset schemes to address all CO2 emissions already emitted.

Workers during the construction of Al Yanub Stadium, formerly known as Al Wakrah Stadium, in February 2018.

It is not yet clear how they hope to achieve this. FIFA says it is using various technologies to offset World Cup emissions, including energy efficiency, waste management, renewable energy and possibly tree planting. However, it is still not possible to confirm what these projects are specifically.

Such schemes can take decades to be effective at sequestering carbon. A recent BBC investigation revealed that some of the forests supposedly planted to offset carbon only exist on paper.

So it will be some time before we can truly judge whether Qatar has achieved its green goals or whether its sustainability claims are just empty words.

The country also continues to reject criticism of the huge human cost among the 30,000 migrant workers who built the stadiums, including a large number of workers killed and seriously injured. There were also allegations of forced labor, stressful conditions, substandard housing, unpaid wages and confiscated passports.

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The Qatari government rejects these accounts, insisting that since 2017 it has taken measures to protect migrant workers from the extreme heat, limit their working hours, and improve conditions in labor camps. However, in 2021 alone, 50 workers died and more than 500 were seriously injured in Qatar out of all those involved in World Cup-related projects, according to data compiled by the International Labor Organization. This is another off-field issue that the desert kingdom will keep under scrutiny.

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