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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Soccer: Qatar’s bid for 2022 WCup includes cooling fields

AP Sports Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar officials insist the country's blistering heat won't be a factor if it wins the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

To make its case, the country's organizers unveiled a $4 billion plan Wednesday to build nine stadiums and renovate three others — all with a high-tech cooling system they said will keep temperatures on the field at 80 degrees.

The solar-powered system will pump cool air into the stadium through grills in the stands and be combined with roofs designed to protect fans and players from the sun.

Even with temperatures outside reaching 122 degrees during the World Cup, officials said all the stadiums will be comfortable.

"For summer temperatures, we can completely eradicate the inhibition of hosting the World Cup because of weather," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the son of the emir and who heads the bid committee. "What we have created now is for large open space to be cooled and for a large number of people to enjoy their time as they would any other month."

There are nine bidders for the 2022 tournament. Seven of those — including England and the United States — are bidding for either the 2018 or 2022 event, while Qatar and South Korea are only vying for the latter.

Qatar's bid got a boost Saturday when FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the Arab world deserves to stage a World Cup.

Blatter, in Doha to meet with Qatar's soccer officials, praised the bid's infrastructure on Saturday and said the government's successful hosting of the 2006 Asian Games showed it was capable of organizing big international events.

The small but wealthy Gulf nation has used sport to try to boost its international profile, staging the Asian Games and becoming a stop for several major tennis tournaments. Qatar will host the 2011 Asian Cup soccer tournament.

But it has struggled to draw the top events. Its 2016 Olympic bid fell flat and the heat may prove to be a hurdle to its World Cup aspirations, as the tournament is played during its warmest season.

There are political issues to sort out as well. Israelis are generally excluded from traveling in the Gulf. Last year, the United Arab Emirates sparked international outrage when it refused a visa for Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer for a women's tournament in Dubai.

The UAE later allowed an Israeli to play in a men's tournament, and Peer was allowed to play in February under heavy security. But FIFA would want to ensure regional politics doesn't spill over into sport should Qatar's bid be successful.

Nasser Al Khater, the communication director for the bid committee, insisted that "any nation, any country any team that qualifies for the World Cup" would be welcome should it win the bid.

Mohammed didn't touch on the Israeli issue, but said he felt the bid would be a chance to celebrate something that has eluded the region. Egypt and Morocco has unsuccessfully bid for the World Cup.

"It's time for the World Cup to come to the Middle East," he said. "It's gone to Africa and knocked down so many doors and changed so many misconceptions for the better... It's time we have something we can celebrate, an event of this size, a global sporting event of this caliber."

A new $50 million international airport is set to open in 2012 and a 28-mile friendship bridge will connect the country with neighboring Bahrain and cut travel time from several hours to 30 minutes.

Officials also will have to contend with the perception that a locale where drinking is limited to hotels would be unable to provide a festive atmosphere for international fans.