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Is Qatar planning World Cup clouds?

Much has been made of the decision to award the next two FIFA World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar respectively. While the successful Russian bid has attracted concerns over security corruption and freedom of speech, it is the surprising selection of Qatar that caused most controversy.

For one, the country doesn’t really have much of a tradition in football, not much in the way of a domestic league. This ensures that almost all fans who wish to attend the games will have to travel a significant distance to get to the tournament. And when they get there they might not find the welcome they expect – while alcohol is legal in Qatar to a certain extent and with a permit, drinking in public is against the law.

Perhaps the most serious concern over Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup though is the weather. Temperatures in August, when the tournament will be held, would easily reach 40°C or even 50°C, making conditions for fans and particularly players verging on dangerous. While there has been no official word as yet, numerous theories as to how the organisers can combat the heat have been put forward. They range from the impractical, such as moving the tournament to the winter months, to the wasteful, with some suggestions that the open-air stadia could be air-conditioned to keep them cooler.

One of the most intriguing suggestions has come from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at Qatar University. Dr. Saul Abdul Ghani, the head of department, has led development of artificial clouds to keep fans and players cool. And it isn’t as crazy as it sounds: the super lightweight carbon structures would hold giant envelopes of helium gas and would be remote controlled to position them over the stadia. The solution is said to have a zero carbon footprint as solar cells on the top surface of the ‘clouds’ would provide the power needed to control movement.

The downside, as often happens, is cost – at current estimates, each of the artificial clouds would cost in the region of $500,000. Of course, if FIFA wanted a World Cup with clouds, they should have paid more attention to the England hosting bid…

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