DOHA, Qatar — The sun rises before 5 am and immediately puts the entire city in convection baking. By lunchtime, the temperature has finished its methodical climb up the scale, from unusual to uncomfortable to unbearable and finally to unhealthy. The wind from the bay offers no relief; In June in Doha, even the summer breeze blows hot.
This was to be the summer that the World Cup would come to Qatar, an idea that seems as absurd now as it did a dozen years ago, when the small Gulf country, say, acquired hosting rights to the biggest football championship. FIFA’s own assessors had rated a summer World Cup in the Gulf as “high risk”, and a single morning walk this week confirmed that assessment. Still, for years Qatari organizers promised to deliver on what they had proposed, whatever FIFA asked of them: new stadiums, new hotels, new cooling technologies, a new frontier for football.
The organizers, of course, eventually came to their senses, or at least that only sense that allows humans to differentiate heat from the anvil heat of the sun, and in 2015 they moved the tournament to winter. However, last week offered a glimpse of what might have been.
Over eight days, Qatar hosted three intercontinental playoff games that determined the final two teams in the field for this year’s World Cup: Australia and Costa Rica. Like many of the prominent events staged in Doha in recent years, the matches were an opportunity for Qatar to test its facilities, its infrastructure and its tolerance of all the disparate guests.
What did that glimpse into the future look like this week? Both reassuring and incomplete, depending on one’s perspective.
With five months to go before the opening match of the World Cup, Qatar seem to have got the important things right. Seven of the eight air-conditioned stadiums built or renovated for the World Cup have hosted matches, with the largest (and last) having its first test events in the coming months. All but one of the stadiums are accessible by one of the three shiny new metro lines that run under and through the capital, and work continues on office towers, apartment blocks, roads and pavements every day. Yet even with so much to do, to see Qatar this summer, so close to its big time, is to see a place that is a work in progress rather than a complete vision.
Peru brought the most fans of any country playing this week, a raucous army of more than 10,000, but every morning it was possible to walk long city blocks without seeing a soul. Many residents and visitors went out only at night, to drink coffee, stroll through the parks and green spaces and wander through Souk Waqif, the capital’s reconstructed market, filling its tables and disappearing into its maze of stalls and shops. But even as locals, Qatari families, and South Asian workers whipped out their phones to snap photos and videos of those fans enjoying this place they probably never thought they’d visit, one couldn’t help but feel that none of them could still. be sure of what November would bring.
Organizers expect more than a million fans overall to pour into Qatar during the World Cup: 32 cheering sections, like those in Peru, but also neutrals, all filling the same spaces, vying for the same hotels and cafe tables. , all waving their own colors and carrying their own hopes.
Questions remain about where all those guests will sleep, eat, shop and drink. Cruise ships and tent camps can help with that first problem, which remains the biggest unanswered question for fans and organizers alike. Qatar’s decision to require World Cup attendees to have proof of a ticket purchase to enter the country or book a hotel room could help keep the numbers down. Soccer-loving Saudis and Emiratis could cross the border to get those numbers back up. But the tournament is also four full days shorter than its predecessors in Brazil and Russia; if it turns into a chaotic mess, at least it will be shorter.
There are still a few months to work out the final details, to find the room and rent the buses and boats, for Qatar to produce the smooth-running masterpiece it promised, to show off all that shiny new soft power.
The heat? That’s so far down Qatar’s list of concerns that officials and engineers are now dismissing it with a wave of the hand. Anyone who’s spent time in the Gulf in the winter will tell you, they know the mercury drops to the 80’s by then, and it’s cooler at night. Could that lower the temperature, literally and figuratively, in fan zones and elsewhere? Maybe.
Match days don’t have to be like that. The stadium’s air conditioning systems worked as advertised throughout the week; on Monday, during Australia’s shootout victory over Peru, fans and vents built into the 40,000-seat Al Rayyan stadium cooled the match to a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius), despite that it was still over 90 degrees outside the open roof of the stadium. and rotating metal casing.
In a few months, the latest and most elaborate system integrated into the 80,000-seat main stadium in Lusail, which will host 10 matches including the final, will receive its final tests. The engineer who designed it promised this week that it would work. He himself, he noted with a laugh, had done the math himself.