Qatar experiments ahead of hosting World Cup

09 July 2014

The biggest challenge in hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar could be catering to thousands of football fans used to a less restrictive environment

With the controversy surrounding Qatar’s selection to host the football World Cup in 2022 reaching a peak in the run-up to this year’s tournament, Doha is using Brazil 2014 as an opportunity to prepare by hosting major screenings of live matches.

Much has been made of the Gulf state’s ability to host the world’s biggest sporting tournament in the searing heat and humidity of summer, so getting the air conditioning technology right will be essential to prevent fans from being exposed to the extreme conditions.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the government body behind the 2022 World Cup preparations, chose the Katara cultural district in Doha to host the first outdoor, air-conditioned fan zone for airing the knockout stages of the Brazil tournament.

Cooling columns

Cool air is pumped into the viewing area by four impressively large cooling columns. When MEED visited the fan zone to watch Argentina dismiss Belgium from the quarter finals, the 1,500-capacity venue was covered with a roof, the organisers saying they were testing it both covered and uncovered to research the cooling technology. According to the Supreme Committee, “the flexible cooling system responds to different climatic conditions using a range of delivery methods” including jet nozzles to restrict winds and cold mist injected into the venue.

The fan zone appears squarely aimed at families, with the edges of the arena offering various games for children such as three-a-side beach football, an Oculus Rift virtual reality game and a foosball table long enough to accommodate 22 players – the latter a bigger hit with adults.

The viewing experience has some novelty cinematic touches. When a yellow card is awarded, the audience is hit by a loud booming sound and two huge screens flanking the main screen flashing yellow. Unfortunately, MEED never got to see if this was pushed up a gear for a red card.

The experience of attending the fan zone for a major game seemed perfect for the crowd in attendance, which was largely made up of expatriate families living and working in Qatar. “The fan zone is ideal as everyone has a great view of the game and there is plenty for the children to do so they don’t get bored,” said Prakash, an Indian office manager visiting the venue for the second time during the Brazil World Cup. “The foreign media does not want Qatar to [host the 2022 World Cup], but I think all the preparations will be in place.”

The crowd was revved up at half time by a charismatic local MC, who wandered into the audience asking for people’s thoughts on the game and quizzing them on Argentinian and Belgian trivia.

The Supreme Committee has sent an observation team to Brazil to learn from the successes and failures of the South American country’s tournament. Brazil 2014 has been hit by many controversies including mass demonstrations, fans breaking into stadiums and the collapse of an overpass in Belo Horizonte. But even if Qatar keeps the World Cup and can build enough capacity in these fan zones, with adequate cooling technology to cater for the huge influx of supporters in 2022, the core demographic of travelling football fans will be more challenging to accommodate. For them, viewing sport and drinking beer goes hand-in-hand.

More freedom

The Qatari government has already announced there will be a certain level of freedom from its current alcohol restrictions during the football tournament in eight years’ time. Fifa’s number two official, Jerome Valcke, meanwhile said in a recent television interview that he was amazed by the level of drunkenness at games after the world football organisation insisted Brazil lift its law banning alcohol sales at stadiums. One of the main sponsors of Brazil 2014 is US lager brand Budweiser.

If a similar rule on pushing alcohol sales is enforced in Qatar, the stadiums and viewing areas are likely to play host to boisterous groups of European and South American fans, who will behave quite differently to those attending fan zones in Doha this summer.

Eight years is enough time for Qatar to build the infrastructure needed to host the tournament, but the biggest challenge for the organisers could be bridging the social divide between the conservative Middle East state and the thousands of international football fans used to a less restrictive environment.

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