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Scientific proof that a summer World Cup in Doha is too hot - for fans

Researchers use biometeorology to show that the best time to hold the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is winter
Adding air conditioning to soccer stadiums in super-hot Doha would just make fans feel worse after the match

German researchers have some advice to the organizers of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar: Hold the soccer tournament during the winter. Or, if the matches really must be played during the summer, hold them at night.

The reason, they say, is not that it would be dangerous for soccer players to run around the pitch for 90-plus minutes in Doha’s 122-degree heat (though one presumes it would be). Their primary concern is the health of the spectators who would be watching.

In particular, they’re concerned about fans from Europe and places with similar climates who are not at all used to Qatar’s “extreme meteorological conditions,” they wrote in the International Journal of Biometeorology. (Biometeorology is a scientific field that examines the weather’s effect on living things.)

The researchers don’t say in their study whether they are soccer fans who would like to attend the World Cup eight years from now. However, they do work at the Meteorological Institute at the University of Freiburg in Germany, the country that won this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The study authors, Andreas Matzarakis and Dominik Frohlich, are part of a team that looks at how global warming will affect tourism. As scientists, they use a measure called physiologically equivalent temperature, or PET, to assess “the changes in human thermal comfort.” Or, in this case, discomfort.

The PET is the temperature (measured in degrees Celsius) you would have to set in a room to mimic the conditions you would feel in an outdoor setting, including your core temperature and skin temperature. In the 1990s, Matzarakis and another colleague developed a PET scale that ranged from 4 and below (causing “extreme cold stress”) up to 41-45 (causing “extreme heat stress”). For this study, Matzarakis and Frohlich had to add two additional categories for PETs: one in the 45-50 range (113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit) and one for above 50 (greater than 122 degrees F).     

The two researchers examined meteorological data taken at the Doha International Airport from March 1999 to January 2014. During the months of June and July – when the World Cup is usually played – the air temperature was typically in the range of 95 degrees F. During the first week of June, temperatures dipped below 84 degrees less than 10% of the time; by July, that figure dropped to 0%.

The most comfortable PET range is 18-23 (the equivalent of 64 to 73 F), when humans feel neither cold nor heat stress, the researchers wrote. In Doha, this range “dominates during winter time.” If such temperatures are ever felt during summer, it’s “only at nighttime,” according to the study.

Temperatures in Doha are likely to top 95 degrees F about 50% of the time during the first week in June and more than 55% of the time come July. “Favorable thermal comfort conditions for Europeans are likely to occur at less than 5% of all cases in June and almost none in July,” Matzarakis and Frohlich wrote. “Even at nighttime, conditions in Doha may cause heat stress for Europeans.” (Since Qatar’s climate is more extreme than in most places, plenty of spectators would face the same problem as the Europeans, the pair wrote.)

Concerns about heat (and humidity, which isn’t a problem in Qatar) arose during this year’s World Cup in Brazil, as four matches were played in Manaus, a city in the Amazon rain forest. A match on June 22 between the U.S. and Portugal made history for having the tournament’s first official water break.

But organizers of the Doha tournament say they’ll tame the heat by equipping soccer stadiums with new outdoor air-conditioning technology. Though that could make the matches more comfortable for spectators in a stadium, “it will make things even worse as soon as they leave it,” according to the study.

Matzarakis and Frohlich are hardly the first people to criticize FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to a hot, arid city on the Arabian Peninsula. Critics have been agitating for a revote, and the tournament’s executive committee has begun “a consultation process” to determine the best dates for the matches. (A big consideration is likely to be the fact that most European professional soccer leagues in Europe are on break during June and July.)

“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,” the German researchers wrote. “According to the results, this is the time from November to February.”

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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