Soccer Will Continue to Feel the Heat After Qatar’s World Cup

Global sports organizations, like FIFA, may need to factor rising temperatures into future tournament plans as heat-related health issues start to arise in players and spectators when temperatures drift into the low 30s (°C). Climate projections already indicate that high match time temperatures could disrupt the soccer world sooner than some might expect. 

Nine of the 16 North American stadiums where FIFA 2026 World Cup games are slated to be held are projected to see average maximum daily temperatures climb above 30°C during the 2026 World Cup, under the mean of the global warming scenarios SSP2-.4.5 and SSP3-7.0. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) current trajectory estimate for global warming falls between these two scenarios. 

The US, Mexico, and Canada are co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, but Canada is the only country where average maximum daily temperature projections for all of its World Cup stadium districts are below 30°C during the tournament. Two of Mexico’s three World Cup stadiums and seven US districts where 10 World Cup stadiums are located are projected to see average daily highs above 30°C during the 2026 World Cup. 

According to Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Sports, weighted by World Cup locations from 1934 to 2018, average high temperatures were in the mid 20s (°C) from mid-June to mid-July, the period when the tournament is typically held. 

The shaded part of the graphic (above) shows the 2026 World Cup stadiums where maximum daily temperatures are projected to be above 30°C based on their five-year averages for the 2024-2028 period


If this year’s World Cup in Qatar, which will run from November 20 to December 18, was played during its usual mid-June to mid-July period, average maximum daily temperatures would have been in the 42-43°C range. With a start date five months later, average high temperatures at 2022 World Cup venues in Qatar are expected to fall between 23.6-28.3°C. 

By 2050, Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Sports, weighted by 2022 World Cup locations in Qatar, shows the number of days above 35°C in Qatar is projected to increase 22% to 134 days, under SSP2-4.5, the IPCC’s so-called “middle of the road” warming scenario. For SSP3-7.0, the IPCC’s medium-to-high emissions scenario, Qatar is projected to see 141 days above 35°C by 2050, a 29% increase from today. Our Climate Risk Navigator for Sports gives users a district-level view into a stadium’s short-term weather situation and long-term climate outlook. 

Since 2010, when Qatar was announced as the 2022 World Cup host, its selection has been contentious for many reasons, including the disruption that the tournament’s move from summer to winter had on the regular soccer season calendar. Just the same, last month Qatar was tapped as the new host for the 2023 AFC  Asian Cup after China relinquished its opportunity to host this soccer event, due to its zero-COVID policy. The Asian Cup was set to take place in mid-2023, but it is now expected to be held in early 2024 because of high heat during Qatar’s summer months.

Qatar’s upcoming World Cup will be the first held in the Middle East, and the first branded as carbon neutral. Achieving carbon neutrality will be a tall order for many reasons, including its water usage. Qatar, one of the world’s driest countries, is using grass pitches that are watered with desalinated seawater. Desalination processes are notoriously energy intensive, and each pitch requires about 10,000 liters of desalinated water daily in the winter (50,000 liters per day in summer months).   

Also, as Qatar does not have enough accommodation to house all those who are participating and attending the tournament, shuttle and charter flights and private jets will be used to ferry players, spectators, and dignitaries to match venues.