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A World Cup in Qatar's Heat Won't Be Safe for Players or Even Spectators

By Ross Pomeroy

Qatar is currently scheduled to host the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2022. There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea, but for now, let's just focus on one of them: the heat.

The average summer temperature in Qatar is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. In sweltering heat like that, nobody should be in direct sunlight for very long, let alone playing soccer at a world-class level for ninety minutes. But don't worry, the Qataris have a plan for reducing the pitch temperature to a less frightening 87 degrees in all of their open-roof stadiums: giant fans... lots of them. Good luck with that, wealthy oil tycoons.

The simple fact is that playing soccer outdoors in a Qatari summer isn't safe for players, and, according to a new report in the International Journal of Biometeorology, it might not even be safe for spectators.

Researchers Andreas Matzarakis and Dominik Fröhlich of Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany gathered weather data for Doha -- Qatar's capital and the designated home for 6 of the 13 World Cup stadiums -- and distilled the collection into a metric called physiological equivalent temperature (PET). PET takes variables like wind, humidity, and solar radiation into account to produce what's essentially an estimated indoor temperature. For example, on an 80-degree day with copious amounts of sunlight and high humidity, the PET might be 95 or higher. Walking around outside would feel like being inside if the temperature were 95 degrees.

When all the numbers were crunched, Matzarakis and Fröhlich actually were forced to update the standard PET table created back in 1996. Here is the original table:

And here are the two levels added in order to fit a Qatari summer:

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be outlandishly, mind-bogglingly, barbeque-liciously hot. And that's putting it mildly. Check out this figure showing the calculated PET by time of day for Doha over the course of a year.

 

You're reading that graph correctly. Between 7 A.M. and 2:30 P.M.* during the time of the World Cup, the average PET will be between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius or higher. Converted to Fahrenheit, that's between 113 and 122 degrees! At PETs like that, heat stroke, where the body's temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, can occur in a manner of hours or less, Matzarakis says, depending on factors like age, clothing, and alcohol intake. Heat stroke can result in permanent organ damage or even death.

"The results show that this kind of event may be not appropriate for visitors," Matzarakis and Fröhlich simply stated.

Not wanting to ruffle any feathers, they also added:

"It is not the aim of this study to show that Doha City is inappropriate for the FIFA 2022 but to find a time period with the most suitable thermal conditions for visitors and tourists. According to the results, this is the time from November to February."

FIFA is currently considering rescheduling Qatar's World Cup to the winter months to avoid the life-threatening heat, but that may not even be necessary. Qatar's successful World Cup bid is widely thought to be the result of bribery, and a report assessing those allegations is due this fall. If claims of bribery are substantiated, it is highly likely that the 2022 World Cup will be relocated to the second place country, the United States.

(*Correction 8/22: Adjusted upper limit from 3 P.M. to 2:30 P.M. to more accurately reflect the figure.)

Source: Matzarakis A, Fröhlich D. "Sport events and climate for visitors-the case of FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022." Int J Biometeorol. 2014 Aug 14.

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