Air conditioned stadiums: The future?

Air conditioned stadiums: The future?

You may have heard and read a lot recently about a certain organisation (FIFA), and how, diplomatically put, they have not exactly acted in a very ethical manner. Along with the scandal, corruption and bribery allegations, one of the major talking points of recent times has been the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. Since it was announced that the biggest festival of football on earth would be taking place in a country whose average summer temperatures are 45 °C, football fans have been collectively asking, how? I have decided to look into an idea that the prospective hosts have bandied around: Air conditioned stadiums. Is this viable, could they become commonplace in the future?

Firstly, air conditioning has of course become a very important feature for many buildings across the world, be it residential, commercial, leisure etc. It is adaptable and more than welcome on those warm afternoons in the office when you are sat by a computer. However, has anyone really considered having this privilege whilst watching a football match?

A technical report looking into the awarding of the tournament to Qatar stated it was a “potential health risk”. To combat this, during the bidding process, Qatar promised advanced air-conditioning technology that would cool stadiums, training pitches and fan zones to 23C. A 500-seater prototype stadium called the Qatar Showcase, designed by British firm Arup, was built to demonstrate how the system might work. This helped secure the bid. Whenever sceptics suggested this could not be done in a much larger arena, Qatar insisted it could and the tournament would be held in the summer without a problem.

The recommendation has been to move the tournament to the winter, but this has not stopped the hosts carrying on with what they see as a major breakthrough in cooling technology. Hassan Al Thawadi, head of the Qatar 2022 World Cup organising committee, said “Whenever the World Cup is hosted, we're still moving ahead with the cooling technology for the legacy that it offers." So what exactly is the process behind the idea of cooling spectators at a football match? Well the idea used in the Qatar showcase was that the stadium would use solar panels outside to collect energy from the sun. This will then be used to power an absorption chiller to chill the water, which was kept at 6C. The chiller's output was stored using "phase change materials" and used to cool air before it was blown through the stadium, maintaining pitch temperatures below 27C. Perforated seats allowed the cooled air to flow and a canopy roof rotated to provide shade.

So is this actually achievable, or is it all a pipe dream? Graeme Maidment, professor of air conditioning and refrigeration at London South Bank University, thinks it can be done, he said "Basically, you use the heat to produce cold. It's doable. But it's going to be very, very expensive. It's going to use lots and lots of kit." The fact that FIFA did not want to take the risk of implementing this system may suggest they see it as a non viable option. However, with plans in place to press ahead, and huge amounts of money being invested in this technology, could we see air conditioned stadiums soon?

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