Qatar, a Place Where History Was Made
Although many criticized FIFA’s decision to entrust the organization of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to a small desert country with marginal sports history in the month of December (a precedent in itself), the World Cup in Qatar turned out to be the best one so far. Fantastic football was witnessed, the matches were visited by record numbers of spectators, and the fewest security breaches and problems were recorded. How did the hosts do it?
By: Nermin Kabahija; E-mail: email@example.com
To better understand what a small Gulf country covering an area five times smaller than Bosnia and Herzegovina managed to achieve on a global scale, we must tell the story of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar from its beginning. To the surprise of many, Qatar won the bid to host the popular World Cup in 2010. FIFA’s decision to allow this country to host one of the largest global sports events caused many negative reactions and controversies, since Qatar is situated on the Arabian Peninsula, where daily temperatures reach over 50 degrees, and the country does not have a developed football infrastructure. It was decided that the World Cup must be played in December, which is a precedent in itself because it requires changes in the organizations of all football associations participating in the championship. Following this, the dissatisfaction in the global sports community culminated soon afterward. Some claimed that it was impossible to hold such an event in the desert, that, because of this, Qatar would not receive visitors, that the infrastructural problems were insurmountable, and that the safety of the visitors would be jeopardized.
The outsider surprised everyone
In short, a total collapse of the organizer’s endeavors was almost called for. Lawsuits were even filed, demanding the annulment of the decision and the reallocation of the hosting rights to a European or another country. “Qatar is a mistake. It is too small of a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for it,” said Sepp Blatter, former president of FIFA. “To be clear once again, Qatar is a mistake and the choice was bad,” Blatter said just a few days ahead of the start of the Cup. Without going into how Qatar really won the organization of the event and whether there was alleged vote buying in the Organizing Committee for the selection of the World Cup host, now that the curtain has come down on the World Cup, one thing must be said – Qatar won, plain and simple! And that goes for every aspect. A complete outsider managed to organize the best, most interesting, most visited, and safest World Cup in history, thus shutting the mouths of all critics, and putting itself on the global map of the most prestigious and most desirable tourist destinations. In the following article, we will try to explain what the hosts did in order to achieve this success, primarily with the most important aspect of the event from our point of view – its security.
Qatar in numbers
To host the FIFA World Cup, seven attractive stadiums were built from scratch alongside one sports facility which was refurbished. The road, railway, and airport infrastructure was either improved or built from scratch, more than 15,000 surveillance cameras were installed, and many innovative security solutions were applied in the field of access control. Finally, a veritable small army of security guards and other workers was hired. The number of visitors was truly impressive and exceeded one million, while almost 3.4 million tickets were sold. All of them could enjoy stadium amenities the likes of which the world has never seen before – these being luxuriously equipped facilities with air-conditioned stands. Despite a large number of guests, the World Cup took place in a completely safe environment, where no serious security incidents related to terrorism, hooliganism, fan rampage, or public drunkenness were recorded. This was largely helped by the restricted distribution of alcoholic beverages during the event. Word has it that Qatar spent about 200 billion dollars on the organization of this event. Anyway, the investment was totally worth it. It should also be mentioned that the record for the most watched online sports broadcast event in history was also broken in Qatar – the final match between France and Argentina was watched by more than 2.5 billion people worldwide.
It is generally known that the organization of major sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics is the most complex security operation. Within their scope, security has become one of the most important factors of entire projects and, as such, is absolutely essential for their success. How important this segment is can be gleaned from the examples of earlier events, such as the Olympic Games in Sydney whose security budget amounted to about 200 million dollars. Today, these amounts are much higher and are measured in billions. “The evolution of risks dictates that, in terms of security, each subsequent FIFA World Cup grows in its complexity, which is also confirmed by the key security studies. More than one billion US dollars was spent on cyber security alone. When assigning the hosts of such competitions, what’s analyzed is the probability and frequency of terrorism in the host country, the level of crime and other public security issues, the technical and professional competence of the security forces, the level of complexity of the required security operations and the capacity of the host to respond to security issues of a varied origin. Therefore, at such events, a formal institutional organization of security is essential,” says dr. Luka Leško, the Director of the College of Occupational Safety and Health in Croatia.
According to him, since the event was entrusted to Qatar in 2010, this country has focused on improving its policing practices in general. “Qatar has signed memorandums of understanding with Turkey, France, the United States, Morocco, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, among others, to provide security equipment and personnel and study examples of good practice. It has also partnered with Interpol, the International Center for Sports Security, and Europol. The latter conducted training for security personnel to deal with possible crisis scenarios, and the so-called Operation Shield to protect airspace and territorial waters from terrorist and other threats was also organized,” says Leško. Thus, before the start of the championship, the Qatari security forces conducted a five-day nationwide exercise called “Watan”. During the World Cup, these forces numbered 32,000 soldiers and policemen and 17,000 security guards, together with partners from 13 countries. The purpose of the exercise was to check the readiness to respond to emergencies. How successful its preparation was is best shown by the results after the end of the World Cup, where only a single minor incident was recorded in the fan zone following a scuffle between fans of Argentina and Mexico.
ISS’s vehicle verification technology
The SecurOS Under-Vehicle Surveillance (UVSS) solution from ISS has been used to protect stadiums and other facilities and public spaces across Qatar. In partnership with local integrator Gulf Networks Security Solutions and a large on-site technical team, ISS deployed 40 UVSS units at vehicle checkpoints for eight stadiums, three logistics zones, and fan zones in and around Doha to protect visitors and make the vehicle inspections safer, faster and more efficient.
A unique control center without precedent
Video surveillance cameras installed in stadiums and access streets in Doha and other cities were equipped with facial recognition technology. Researchers from Qatar University developed surveillance systems that use drones that can estimate the number of passers-by on city streets. All data and footage were sent to the Aspire Control Center, which Qatari officials developed as a headquarters to monitor gate security, transportation systems, and service activities at stadiums and city streets. This center acted as the technical hub for the event itself, where all operations for the eight stadiums were centralized thanks to a single platform that connected them. Equipped with numerous large screens and video walls, the center could easily remind one of the control rooms of the famous NASA or Space X agencies. Its space was filled with ELITE consoles specially designed to accommodate various equipment and monitors. The command center also had a genuine crisis management room equipped with ELITE MEET control room consoles with all the necessary power connectors and other meeting tables from the same series. The entire project was rounded off with a hundred K18 chairs for all positions relevant to the project.
“What you see here is a new standard, a new trend in venue operations, and this is our contribution from Qatar to the world of sport. What you see here is the future of stadium operations. Basically, we can open a door or all the doors in a stadium right from here and that is not all”, Niyas Abdulrahiman, the organizers’ chief technology officer. The control center also monitored all nearby subway trains and buses, while drones accurately estimated the number of people on the streets. “Whatever happens, there is a response in and as long as there is no property damage and no one is injured, we will just be watching,” said Hamad al-Mohannadi, director of the command center.
The first digital solution for smart stadiums
In order to turn all stadiums into one digital project, the Intaleq company developed and designed a new digital solution for the World Cup in Qatar. The solution, the first of its kind to serve “smart” stadiums in the world, is powered by Johnson Controls’ digital platform Openblue and Microsoft’s Azure cloud software. Each stadium had its own 3D digital twin, i.e. an interactive digital model that provided a team of experts in the command center with live information on safety, comfort, and sustainability. Openblue collected data from edge devices and systems and consolidated it to give operators a streamlined experience in assessing situations, such as recognizing when a security issue could affect fans and players, or how crowd size and weather changes could have an impact on energy efficiency or playing conditions.
Prior to the development of this new digital solution, major sporting events relied on multiple systems and operators to analyze data, making incident responses inefficient and requiring much more time, effort and resources. However, now their digital “twins” are run through a unique command center that allows for a real-time overview of the stadium and interactive monitoring, remote management and control, thus providing more context for activating alarms, and the ability to resolve incidents much faster than a traditional command-and-control solution. Additionally, a workflow automation tool helps users automate standard operating procedures, allowing them to manage stadiums more easily. “Intaleq and the creation of the first-of-its-kind digital platform is an incredible testament to the power of partnership and is changing how the world views the application of artificial intelligence to optimize stadium management,” said Rodney Clark, Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer, Johnson Controls
For the third time in a row, HID Global was chosen as the manufacturer of smart tickets for the FIFA World Cup. This year HID also provided a fully customized access control solution to the external perimeter and all exit gates to ensure smooth entry/exit and facilitate an emergency evacuation. Counterfeiting is a constant concern for the organizers, so FIFA has relied on HID to supply around two million paper tickets with unique security features, including radio frequency identification. Unlike barcode tickets, which are more easily counterfeited, RFID transmits the unique ID of the ticket and ticket holder via radio waves. Since RFID scanners do not need a direct line of sight like traditional barcode scanners, ticket validation can run smoothly, thus speeding up the entry to large events.
As part of the project, HID also provided a secure ticket personalization solution, including self-service ticket kiosks for media seat allocation, instant ticketing cabinets with special printers for ticket personalization on the go, thousands of hand-held scanners, and on-site support during each match.
HID’s Event Management Platform (EMP) provided real-time data and reporting through several user dashboards, helping security officials and event organizers remotely monitor and manage everything, from the number of attendees at each entry and exit point to accreditation of the media and management of large crowds.
HID has also been asked to provide a level of external perimeter access control for security checks at every stadium and training ground facility across the country. To do this, they installed a new, patented UHF booster technology developed by HID at hundreds of gates, which serves as a companion device to conventional UHF readers and improves the reading capacity of RFID tags. Units are integrated into the EMP for real-time event and system status monitoring. Crucially, this was all done automatically to maintain a smooth flow in and out of the gates and ensure an optimal user experience for fans. “Having real-time data on when ticket holders enter and exit the perimeter is critical for event organizers to ensure the best possible experience for fans and accredited persons, as well as to get data on which gate needs more attention in the context of crowd control and emergency evacuations,” explained the project manager Cesare Paciello.
All local and international fans who wanted to attend World Cup matches had to apply for a Hayya digital identification card. It is an identification document for visitors that runs on smart technology and contains all the necessary information needed to enter the tournament facilities. Everyone who attended the matches had to have that card and the corresponding ticket. The users could download it in two forms: as a physical smart card or a digital card via the Hayya app. The card also served as a visa upon the presentation of the passport and allowed visitors to enjoy multiple stays in Qatar for 60 days. Its application began ten days before the championship, and run through 27 days of the tournament and 23 days after its end. It also served as a permit to enter Qatar for all international travelers, regardless of the reason and was the only mode of entry between 1 November 2022 and 1 January 2023. The additional benefit of the Hayya card was that it provided access to free public transport on the days of the matches. Whether they were using the metro, tram, or bus to and from stadiums, hotels, or tourist attractions, users could use their Hayya card to reach any destination. The card could also be used to determine the exact location of every user if needed.
Offsides have become a thing of the past
In order to ensure the regularity of the matches at the highest level possible, FIFA has prepared several tried-and-tested technologies and one completely new one for use in Qatar. Goal technology and VAR are something we are used to and they have already become a standard in football. Yet, the novelty is that in Qatar the time spent on checking the VAR had to be fully compensated for, which is why the matches were often 15 minutes longer. Interestingly, the final match between Argentina and France had four overtime intervals which lasted a total of 22 minutes, so the penalty shootout was started only after an incredible 142 minutes of the game.
However, at the World Cup in Qatar, a new technology was also demonstrated – Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT). Intended to be a tool to facilitate decision-making during disputed situations such as offsides, it fully justified its role. The semi-automated offside technology works with 12 special cameras placed in the roof structure of the stadium that constantly monitor and record 29 points on the players’ bodies, as many as 50 times in one second. In this way, the software recalculates the exact position of each player in the field, and these 29 points include all limbs and extremities that may be in an offside position i.e. those parts of the body that are relevant for scoring a goal. In practice, this meant that the system could calculate and resolve disputed situations faster than the referees on the field.
Two controversial situations
An additional element to this technology was the Al Rihla, Adidas’ official ball for the World Cup in Qatar, in which an IMU 500 Hz inertial sensor was installed. This sensor is placed in the center of the ball and has the task of sending data about its movement to the control room 500 times per second. This enables very precise detection of its position and point of impact. This very feature turned out to be crucial in a situation that almost turned into a controversy, when Cristiano Ronaldo, in the knockout stage match against Uruguay, asked to be credited with the first goal of his national team in the match. The ball was thrown in from the side by his teammate Fernandes, Cristiano jumped and seemingly touched the ball with his head which ended up behind the Uruguay goalkeeper. The Portuguese player’s celebration was short-lived, however, as official information soon appeared on the scoreboard that he was not the scorer, but rather his teammate. Ronaldo shook his head in displeasure, and the situation escalated after the game because the Portuguese national team filed an official appeal against the decision and insisted that the goal be attributed to their best player.
In order to resolve the situation, FIFA turned to Adidas as the creator of the ball, and the technology soon gave a clear answer. Adidas released sensor data from the ball which showed that Ronaldo did not touch the ball after all. “In the match between Portugal and Uruguay, by using the Connected Ball Technology housed in Adidas’ Al Rihla Official Match Ball, we are able to definitively show no contact on the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo for the opening goal in the game. No external force on the ball could be measured as shown by the lack of ‘heartbeat’ in our measurements,” it was said in the statement by Adidas.
Even air is no longer a problem
Another situation that must be mentioned is Japan’s second goal in the knockout stage match against Spain. The Japanese made a quick attack from which they scored a goal, and everyone in the stadium and in front of the TV screens wondered if the ball was out of the field during the return pass by the Japanese player. The players of the German national football team, the third team in the group, also wondered about this particular situation since this particular goal could decide their fate in the championship. But what the eye did not see, cameras and software did. The video that appeared a few minutes later showed that, although the ball was in the air, which is why it was initially thought that it must have left the boundaries, it actually remained in the field, so the goal was recognized. To make things even stranger, the technology determined that the ball touched the field line with only 3 mm of its circumference, but that was enough for the goal to be recognized. The Spanish did not protest, and the Germans had to pack their bags. If the goal had not been accepted, the Japanese would be the ones to go home. Generally speaking, VAR and other technologies fully justified their roles this time, establishing these solutions as indispensable in all future major sports events.
We can safely say that Qatar gave the world a truly successful and unforgettable FIFA World Cup. The practices and experiences from this World Cup will certainly serve as an example for future organizers on how to create a pleasant, yet completely safe environment for mass events. “We are proud of the fact that the tournament did not witness any security obstacles. It was a safe and family-friendly tournament that brought cultures around the world together. All previous World Cups did not see four matches being played in one city or one region. This was one of the most difficult challenges yet we succeeded,” said Nasser Al Khater, CEO of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. In the spirit of the championship’s slogan “Now Is All”, Qatar undoubtedly became the land where the game was played for posterity. Congratulations!