FIFA’s elusive criteria for constructing sustainable stadiums

by  — 13 August 2013

Amid FIFA’s elusiveness on the criteria for sustainability, Qatar needs to play safe, say experts, ensuring the highest levels of sustainability in its stadiums for the World Cup 2022.

Once a sporting arena, the grand Colosseum of Rome has arguably inspired the early stadiums of history. After 450 years of Roman games, such as animal hunts, races and gladiator fights, the structure today stands more as a tourist attraction than a reminder of the Roman gaming arena. Thanks to this amphitheatre’s deep association with the Roman Empire, today the mere existence of its ruins is still paying off for Italy, despite the loss of purpose the structure was originally erected for. 

If this was the case for modern-day stadiums, then perhaps we would not have to bother ourselves with the question of “what next?”, what happens with the magnificent stadiums planned to meet the needs of the World Cup once the tournament is over? This is where the world of sports intersects with sustainability – a major concern for Qatar set to host the FIFA World Cup 2022. Sustainability not only stands for incorporating green technology to preserve the natural environment, but also includes exploring ways of reducing carbon footprints through recycling and reusing.  

The problem with sustainable stadiums

Building Towards 2022, an official brochure released by the World Cup 2022 Supreme Committee, unequivocally states Green Qatar 2022 as one of its guiding principles. Achieving this, however, seems like a complex terrain because of the translucence  around FIFA’s stance on sustainability.

“FIFA puts a lot of pressure on you to ensure the ideal conditions they imagine.” - Vicente Brandao, architect Santini & Rocha Arquitetos, Brazilian contractors.

Hosting the World Cup 2014, Brazil is striving to position itself as a benchmark in ensuring a sustainable tournament by obtaining LEED certification for all of its stadiums. The decision comes more as a national initiative than a requirement by FIFA. “This [certification] was not a FIFA demand, but rather a voluntary action, which shows that all the host cities share the same environmental concerns,” FIFA reported the executive secretary of Brazil’s Ministry of Sports, Luis Fernandes, as saying.

Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium will be upgraded to meet the requirements of FIFA for the World Cup 2022. (Image Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee)

Regardless of the trigger behind Brazil’s move, the trend builds up pressure for the World Cup’s future host countries Russia and Qatar to maintain the same, if not an improved, level of sustainability. However, what complicates the situation is the vagueness around FIFA’s standards to ensure sustainability. While FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility Federico Addiechi has expressed his expectations on sustainability from the two countries, the federation has not yet laid out a clear stance on the scope of sustainability it would require from the future stadiums.

Discussing the challenges of meeting sustainability standards for FIFA stadiums, Dr. Alex Amato, head of sustainability at Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), tells The Edge, “They’ve wisely left the definition of zero carbon fairly vague. I guess it will probably include transport, it will probably include the operations of the stadia themselves during the event.”

While infrastructure projects such as railroads can be seen as a part of the National Vision 2030, one wonders what would happen with the seemingly one-off facilities, such as large-scale stadiums planned to match the World Cup 2022’s spectator-count and FIFA’s standards for the tournament, which will feature 64 matches among 32 teams. Here, allowing a space for sustainability can help Qatar avoid what many host countries of global sporting events unwillingly had to choose as their last resort – demolishing the grand stadiums and utilising the space for projects such as residential towns, which were realised at heavy costs and environmental damage.

Dr. Neil Kirkpatrick, head of sustainability, Middle East, Atkins, says that Qatar should explore reusable power options which can be exploited for other projects once the tournament is over.

Qatar-based environmental scientist, Tim Cook who is manager, Environment at GHD – an Australian engineering, architecture and environmental consulting company – believes the focus of stadiums development in Qatar so far does not go beyond 2022. “Sustainability of a stadium has to be looked at beyond this one event. What is important is how the stadium will be designed and built to operate over the next 30 years,” he says. 

To ensure the highest level of sustainability, Cook says, the key is to start during the design process. “To make a design change on paper requires minimal cost, but to retrofit during operation can be expensive,” explains Cook, adding that “the design phase is the most important; this is where sustainable principles can be interwoven into the whole concept.”

After the World Cup, Al Wakrah Stadium’s renewable energy system is planned to provide electricity to surrounding communities.

However, with the ambiguity around FIFA’s requirements, there is little surety guaranteed to the developers that the design would not have to be amended to meet what could be FIFA’s future sustainability criteria. “FIFA puts a lot of pressure on you to ensure the ideal conditions they imagine and sometimes cannot be done. At an existent stadium, certain conditions are very hard to change,” agrees Vicente Brandao, architect and partner at Santini & Rocha Arquitetos, which is the turnkey contractor for Brazil’s Beira-Rio Stadium, set to host five games of the World Cup 2014.

In this illustration, an elevated view is displayed of the 45,330-capacity Al Khor stadium located in the north east of Qatar. (Image Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee)

While some of these demands may not be raised as a concern for sustainability, they can potentially affect the sustainable elements of the stadium. “At a point of the process, FIFA said that the whole field (pitch) would have to be lowered by one metre for visibility matters,” Brandao speaks of his experience,  “The stadium is very close to the city’s waterfront, and in this case we would probably need pumps to take the water away.” The contractor, he tells, then had to discuss the technicalities that FIFA was not considering before. 

Beating the heat

Considering Qatar’s hot climate during the scheduled time of the World Cup, Ahmed Fouad, head of planning at Consolidated Contractors Company, believes that a major challenge to ensure sustainability in stadiums would be the provision of  “innovative and cost-effective cooling solutions, especially the ones that use solar power as an energy source.” Dr. Amato of QGBC explains that in Qatar, the building physics of cooling stadiums down, although challenging, have been worked out already in terms of research and development.

Ahmed Fouad, head of planning at Consolidated Contractors Company, believes that innovative and cost-effective cooling solutions will be a major challenge to ensure sustainability in Qatar’s stadiums.

Hosting the World Cup in summers, hence, can leave a heavy toll on the environment because of the cooling needs, which conventionally require high-power electricity. Director and head of programme cost consultancy at Aecom Qatar and construction economics and finance advisor at QGBC, Steven Humphrey  concurs. “Air-conditioning is a key energy consumer and therefore minimising air-conditioning demand, without compromising comfort, is critical,” he tells The Edge, further adding that “good design, use of insulation, quality control in construction activities and use of correct materials all play a key part in meeting these targets.” 

Apart from looking at the design dimensions of the stadiums to lower the energy consumption, Dr. Amato explores the option of using reusable energy through the application of green technologies. “It’s important to remember that energy itself is not a bad thing,” he says, “What we want to look at are the consequences. And if you use energy from renewable sources, they may have a much different environmental impact than energy that’s generated using fossil fuels.” However, Dr. Amato’s concern is that essentially, at the moment, the majority of energy in Qatar and indeed in most other places around the world is generated from fossil fuels.

Doha’s Sports City Stadium’s cooling design will be donated to developing countries with similar climates. The stadium will feature 44,560 seating capacity, feature 6000 parking spaces for cars and 350 spaces for buses. (Image Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee)

Considering the temporality of the event and the demand for power to meet the requirements, one of the challenges is to identify how Qatar can put the right infrastructure in place to power the stadiums. “After the event is finished, there will be a lower demand for stadiums, but Qatar can use the power supply for residential communities or commercial projects, or schools or hospitals,” says Dr. Neil Kirkpatrick, who is affiliated with the Central Planning Office - FIFA 2022, and is working as the head of sustainability, Middle East, Atkins. For instance, Al Wakrah Stadium will use renewable energy systems to provide the electrical requirements for the cooling systems. After the World Cup, the stadium’s renewable energy systems is planned to provide electricity to surrounding communities.

Reusable stadiums

According to the World Cup 2022 Supreme Committee, Qatar will be using modular components, making the stadiums easy to disassemble and transport to other world regions, where they will be reconstructed. Similarly, the use of existing stadiums can lead to environment-friendly solutions, but the enhancement of a structure to meet the requirements of FIFA can be an onerous process, an option that many developers would not want to explore. “It’s easier to demolish and make it all over again, but it’s not sustainable. Imagine all the construction waste that you create,” says Brandao. For now, Qatar has announced to renovate three of its existing stadiums. 

In the case of FIFA particularly, this enhancement comes with an added demand for additional facilities. “In an existent stadium, it is very hard to accommodate all the rooms and spaces that FIFA needs such as food and beverages, media centre, parking, technical compounds, VIP and VVIP areas,” says Brandao, sharing his experience from the ongoing renovation project for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

If planned properly, reusing the old structures can also lead to cost-effective solutions for Qatar, where the construction cost is already high because of the limited capacity of the port and dependency on other countries for building materials. Brandao speaks about the story of his company’s project of renovating an existing stadium for the World Cup 2014, “Our renovation, using the existent structure, will provide a 58,018-seat stadium that will be used for five games. It will cost around USD175 million (QAR637 million), the second cheapest in Brazil 2014.”

An aerial view shows the final touches of the roof installation at the Maracana Stadium, which is undergoing renovation for the World Cup 2014, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Image Reuters/Arabian Eye)

FIFA recently opened up an option for Qatar to reduce the number from 12 to eight. Considering the country’s hot climate during the scheduled time (June and July) of the tournament, the federation also mentioned a possibility of moving the dates from summers to a moderate time of the year. All these options also open up opportunities for enhanced sustainability. The relaxations, however, also come with the risk of a revote, something that Qatar would understandably want to avoid.

While the country is clearly striving to meet the project demands for the tournament, will it be able to deliver a sustainable World Cup 2022? “At this time, nine years out from 2022, Qatar has the ability to strengthen legislation, policies and practices that will mould the way in which all projects are delivered in a more sustainable way,” says Cook. 

Almost a decade ahead of the tournament, there is little the country can predict about FIFA’s future expectations on sustainability. Seemingly, however, Qatar is exploring its best bet – playing safe by exploiting maximum options to prevent the environmental damage. Eventually, being proactive on the grounds of sustainability does not harm. Even if FIFA keeps a soft stance on the matter, ensuring sustainability will at least manifest a utopian drive – preserving the natural resources and preventing the environment for the country’s future generations.

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