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Qatar's World Cup bid: A mirage in the desert?

By Mark Tutton for CNN
  • Qatar hopes to host the 2022 World Cup in temperatures of over 40 C
  • It plans to use solar power to air condition its stadiums
  • If the bid is successful Qatar will be the first country in the Middle East to stage the event

London, England (CNN) -- In the tiny desert state of Qatar the locals know better than to brave the scorching summer sun.

As temperatures soar over 40 C (104 F), those who can flee the country for cooler climes. The stragglers spend their time ensconced in air-conditioned homes, offices and shopping malls.

To them, the idea of playing football for 90 minutes in these conditions would seem nothing short of crazy.

And yet, Qatar will present its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, staged at the height of summer, to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in Zurich Friday.

So, are their plans nothing more than a mirage in the desert?

Well, perhaps not quite. Qatar has a high-tech secret weapon.

Their bid proposes to build nine new fully air-conditioned open-air stadiums, both on the pitch and in the spectator area, that work using solar power.

Solar thermal collectors and photovoltaic panels on the outside the stadiums and on their roofs will mine energy from the blazing Qatari sun.

It will be used to chill water, which in turn will cool air before it is blown through the stadium, keeping pitch temperatures below 27 C (80 F).

Qatar 2022's bid book director Yasir Al Jamal told CNN it would be the first time these technologies have been combined to keep a stadium cool.

Stadium seats will be cooled using air pumped at the spectator ankle zone at a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius.
--Yasir Al Jamal
Qatar's unique selling point for bid
  • Qatar
  • FIFA World Cup
  • Middle East

"Stadium seats will be cooled using air pumped at the spectator ankle zone at a temperature of 18 C," he said.

"The same air will also be projected from the back and neck area of the seats, ensuring that each seating row of each stadium provides maximum comfort and enjoyment to fans."

Jamal said the photovoltaic panels will export electricity to Qatar's national grid, which will make the cooling system carbon neutral.

He added that the same system would be used to cool the competing teams' training facilities.

Qatar has grown rich on the back of its extensive gas and oil reserves but it is trying to diversify its economy and promote itself as a cultural destination.

Becoming the first nation in the Middle East to host the World Cup would be seen as a coup for a country with a population of less than one million and currently placed 95th in the FIFA world rankings.

Qatar has previously hosted global sporting events -- but never in the summer.

It staged the Asian Games in December 2006 and the World Indoor Athletic Championships earlier this year.

But, Doha's bid to host the 2016 Olympics, which proposed holding the games in October, when temperatures would be slightly more forgiving, was rejected.

And with the World Cup having to fit in around the European football season, there's no choice but to hold the competition in June and July -- Qatar's hottest months.

One man who knows about building stadiums that are used in extreme heat is Jack Boyle, principal and senior architect with Populous. He designed the University of Phoenix stadium, in Arizona.

Arizona endures similar summer temperatures to Qatar and like Qatar's proposed venues, the Phoenix stadium is cooled by air conditioning -- although it is powered by conventional energy.

Boyle told CNN that while it wasn't economically viable to use solar power at the Phoenix stadium, it could work for Qatar.

"I think if you've got a tremendous amount of solar radiation on the site, as you would in Qatar, and plenty of vacant land, there's no reason not to do that," he said.

"First cost [initial expenditures] on creating all these alternative energy systems can be fairly high, so you just need to look at what your payback is going to be. But in Qatar, they may not be concerned about payback at all."

Having been involved in projects in Qatar, Boyle said the World Cup stadiums would also have to contend with the country's high humidity, which would put an extra strain on their cooling systems.

Qatar plans to use 12 stadiums to host the competition and German architects AS&P have produced conceptual designs for nine new stadiums, and upgrades to three existing venues.

As well as using solar power to cool the stadiums, AS&P partner Joachim Schares told CNN their designs include retractable roofs, to keep out the blazing sun.

"We will close the roof in the days before the match so the temperature cools down before the match," he said.

"The roof could stay closed [during matches] so that every seat in the stadium and the pitch is fully shaded, or if FIFA requires teams to play with an open roof we could open it and still guarantee a temperature of 27 C."

Qatar's 2022 bid faces competition from Australia, England, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, as well as joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands, and Portugal and Spain.