Each added stories about the effect of heat on human reaction times and mental health makes me look forward with additional unease to the World Cup games to be held in Qatar in 2022. Qatar is a country already subject to routine temperatures that can be barely tolerated by inactive people. In recent years, new heat records are being set each year — in Qatar as in the US.
FIFA’s decision to hold the Cup in such an irrational location has produced several schedule changes are unlikely to be adequate to give players and crowds the needed relief from the heat. First, they moved the tournament from its usual run beginning in May and running through July to the winter months. Second, because of the interaction of that move with the usual professional soccer schedule, the’ve compressed the duration to a bare four weeks.
Both players and fans will have their lives disrupted by plopping these important games in the middle of an already long season plus forcing all involved to make the decision on how to handle the inability to celebrate the important fall holidays with their families. Playing game after game at this level of competition over a shorter time makes an increase in injuries almost inevitable. At least the increase in number of teams, and thus the number of games, won’t take effect until 2026.
Even if there were no scheduling problems, only the stadiums have been built recently specifically to handle the recent increases in temperatures. The hotel facilities have not been freshly built and are even less likely to be dependably cooled to comfortable temperature ranges. Then there’s the important third time when players and fans will face temperature stresses — during the period of getting back and forth between stadiums, hotels, and anywhere else they’ll need to be.
Because of the scheduling, there will be no opportunity for the bodies of those traveling to Qatar from elsewhere to adjust to the high temperatures and the temperature swings that they’ll be facing. Moreover, these world-class players push their bodies to the max on fields that are always a higher temperature than the seating for the fans. In recent tournaments, temperatures well below those in Qatar have forced water breaks at temperatures. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to foresee some very nasty health issues and easily anticipated bad publicity for FIFA.
Note: The selection of Qatar is controversial for many other reasons than climate.