World Cup: Qatar 2022 Must Be Played in the Winter

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2012

DOHA, QATAR - OCTOBER 24:  Arab men sit at a shoemaker's stall with a replica of the FIFA World Cup trophy in the Souq Waqif traditional market on October 24, 2011 in Doha, Qatar. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup football competition and is slated to tackle a variety of infrastructure projects, including the construction of new stadiums.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The tournament may be 10 years away, but debate surrounding the Qatar 2022 World Cup is heating up.

This week, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee announced that it does not wish to move the tournament from the summer to the winter, and will only do so if FIFA insists. So far, Sepp Blatter has supported the idea of keeping the tournament in the summer.

The plan, therefore, is to host the biggest football event in the world on the Arabian peninsula at a time of year when temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

For the health and safety of the players and fans, this is an absurd prospect.

The Supreme Committee, however, is confident that its "inventive cooling technology" will ensure the tournament is kept in its traditional summer time slot.

Last year, they revealed plans to use artificial mechanical clouds to block out the heat, a concept that appears to have been lifted straight from an episode of The Simpsons.

The Qataris also put forward ideas to air condition each of their new stadia with carbon-neutral, solar-powered air conditioning. This would bring pitch temperatures down to a safe (but still pretty stifling) 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit). Stadium seats, meanwhile, would be cooled to a comfortable 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit).

A small, air-conditioned stadium prototype was built in Doha to test the solar air conditioning project, and although successful, such technology has never been attempted on a large scale.

Furthermore, Populous, one of the firms of architects building stadia for Qatar, has asked that the air conditioning plans to be scrapped, dismissing them as "notoriously unsustainable" for the environment when used on a large scale as well as too expensive.

Yes, too expensive for Qatar.

Air conditioning a stadium is by no means impossible. The University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, for example, is air conditioned, but it is powered by conventional energy and not untested solar technology.

Populous believes old-fashioned Arabian methods of cooling such as shading seats would be far better, and that the creation of wind towers to suck up hot air and create fan-like air movement would be far more viable.

What is surely more viable, though, is holding the tournament in the winter, when daytime temperatures average a much cooler 22 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit).

This is safer not only for the players, but for fans, who will not have to travel around the Arab state in dangerous levels of heat. And seeing as FIFA is quite insistent on the sale of alcohol at its showpiece tournament, the summer heat could have even more serious health repercussions.

This week, Qatar 2022 ambassador Ronald de Boer spoke out in favour of a winter tournament, citing the Africa Cup of Nations as a successful precedent:

"Sometimes, a change is good and let's see what it does to the world of football.

"Maybe it's great to have it in the winter, have everybody fit – mentally fit, physically fit. I don't see a problem with that because, for example, the African [Nations] Cup, when that's going on, if we have an African player, he has to go."

A winter tournament may disturb the traditional European season, but de Boer also notes that the likes of Russia, Scandinavia and the USA would not have such a scheduling disruption over winter.

Last summer, we saw plenty of top players coming straight from exhausting domestic and European campaigns to Poland and Ukraine. Would the Bayern Munich players who were drained by a disappointing Champions League Final have performed better in a winter tournament, when they may have been fitter and more mentally focused?

By giving the World Cup to Qatar, FIFA has demonstrated that it is not scared of change. Football's governing body should take this one logical step further and move the tournament to a time that is in the best interest of the players, the fans and the game.