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Qatar: Cool sport, hot country

An artist's impression of one of the main 2022 World Cup complexes
An artist's impression of one of the main 2022 World Cup complexes

The sun-drenched desert state of Qatar is preparing to take the heat out of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, writes the BBC's Kevin Connolly.

Across the sporting world, thoughts are beginning to focus on the London Olympics this summer - and the European Football Championships which come a few weeks before.

But there is one sports-mad country where everyone's eyes are fixed on a slightly more distant horizon.

In the tiny Gulf Emirate of Qatar the countdown to the World Cup finals, which will be held here in 2022, is very much under way. I already have my first piece of "merch" - a rather dashing purple and white bobble hat which is a souvenir from an event that won't take place for another ten years.

Qatar, it's fair to say, is in a state of high excitement.

When Sepp Blatter first announced that Fifa was bringing the World Cup to the Gulf in the summer of 2022 there were dark mutterings about the absurdity of it all.

Qataris though, got straight to work. Or at least they hired foreign experts and got them to work. And there is plenty of work to be done.

The average summer temperature here is 45 degrees centigrade - dangerously hot for any activity more strenuous than sitting in the shade while someone else fetches you a drink.

Outsiders query the wisdom of Fifa's decision at their peril.

Qatar presents a model of its Al-Shamal stadium
The 2022 bid team revealed its design for the stadiums in April 2010

Qataris are intensely proud of their achievement in securing the competition and like to point out indignantly that in the Arab world the spectacle of Europeans playing football in sleet and snow is regarded as pretty ludicrous too.

And they argue that Qatar is the richest country on earth and its prepared to devote more or less unlimited resources to getting this right.

I met the project's technical director, the Colombian architect Dario Cavidad, in his office in one of downtown Doha's many new skyscrapers.

He sees no problem in producing stadiums where carbon-neutral, solar-based systems will produce chilled air in which players and fans alike will be perfectly comfortable.

Even with existing technology he says its possible to produce atmospheres inside stadiums which are around 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding deserts.

"Basically," he told me, "we will be pushing air to the pitch area and pushing air to each individual seat... the idea is to make venues where spectators will be able to move in a very comfortable environment."

Qatar will put on an amazing show because they're all about the glitz and glamour
Qatar resident, Vince Stack

Dario's work is the subject of intense national pride in Qatar and fevered speculation too. Everyone in the Emirate knows that the viability of the finals relies on making the technology work. It has been suggested that the games might be moved to the winter - when Europeans would still find Doha on the warm side - but no-one wants to talk about that.

The burden of expectation is on the technologists and the architects rather than the Fifa officials who would make the final decision about whether to shift the date of the tournament.

I met Qataris who believe firmly that scientists are creating a radio-controlled rain cloud which will be steered into position over stadiums on match days. They are undeterred at the thought that it might be rather muggy on the pitch at 45 degrees with heavy cloud cover.

And there are people who think that the authorities are planning to put a roof over large parts of the city centre covered with a special membrane to cut down ultra-violet radiation.

Neither of those plans appears to be founded in fact, although Qatar is so rich that I wouldn't entirely rule anything out.

And it's worth bearing in mind that plenty of things we now take for granted - like the air-conditioning of the interiors of buildings - once seemed equally implausible.

The first indoor system was created to ease the final days of James Garfield, the US president who died of an infection after being shot by an assassin in Washington.

Shortly afterwards similar systems were introduced into the New York Stock Exchange building and into cinemas which used to be made unbearably hot in the American summers by old-fashioned projection equipment.

The spread of the American way to hotter regions of the United States from Florida to West Texas and Arizona has been made possible entirely by the spread of air-conditioning.

Qataris feel that their World Cup might popularise outdoor aircon in rather the same way - especially if it proves possible to do it all in a carbon-neutral way.

A man from Qatar watches ice hockey in the City Centre Mall in the West Bay section of Doha
The desert state even has its own ice hockey league

One man who thinks they'll probably get it right is an expatriate Canadian lecturer called Vince Stack who I met at a shopping mall in Doha.

Vince knows all about the can-do attitude of the Qataris - he and his friends play ice-hockey on a full size rink in the middle of the Villaggio shopping centre in the capital city.

It probably costs quite a bit to produce that amount of refrigeration in the Arabian desert but then Villaggio is a monument to the surreal possibilities that more-or-less limitless wealth can produce.

It's built as a kind of homage to the centre of Venice, complete with an indoor sky painted on the ceiling. You can have yourself punted through the mall along an artificial river in a life-size gondola if that's what floats your boat.

Vince conceded that the temperature in the summer can be brutal - up to 50 degrees, but he doesn't think that will matter in the end.

"I have no doubt," he told me, "that Qatar will put on an amazing show because they're all about the glitz and glamour. Anything that makes you comfortable, they're all for it."

So if you've been worrying about the viability of the Qatari world cup, I'd say relax, they appear to have matters in hand.

And the whole project has unleashed a kind of boundless sense of the possible here too. If they pull it off, don't be surprised to find them bidding for the Winter Olympics one day.

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