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The state-of-the-art Aspire Command and Control Center, located in the Aspire Zone Campus

From shorter queues and less crowding to optimal cooling temperatures – Qatar is leading a transformation in sports technology using cloud

Over the past decade, technology has played a central role in the evolution of football matches – particularly when it comes to large-scale live football tournaments. From goal-line technology to video replays, we’ve seen a gradual progression of new digital tools introduced behind-the-scenes to enrich key aspects of the game.

Now a brand-new sporting concept will once again rewrite football history, making live football events more technologically advanced than ever before.

While major football events are generally played across stadiums in different cities, Qatar now has the ability to host compact sporting events whereby people can view multiple matches in the same city, on the same day and without traveling.

Though this elevates the tournament experience for fans, it also makes these events very challenging from an operational perspective. Unlike previous tournaments where operational teams would have been distributed across different arenas, large sporting events in Doha will now operate under one team – a mammoth task that has never been attempted before.

Having multiple stadiums in close vicinity to one another comes with significant challenges, but it also presented the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in Qatar with a unique advantage. “We realised there was an opportunity to introduce a connected stadiums operational concept by bringing all the arenas in Doha under one unified management platform, powered by the cloud,” says Niyas Abdulrahiman, Executive Director of IT at Supreme Committee.

The platform, called UNISTAD, runs on Microsoft Azure, enabling the central command center to make sense of a wealth of data and telemetry in real time

From facility management to IT and safety and security teams, UNISTAD brings together key operations into one integrated and intelligent environment run from Doha’s state-of-the-art Aspire Command and Control Center, located in the Aspire Zone Campus. From there, a team of experts can remotely monitor the subsystems of the eight stadiums and make informed decisions as scenarios unfold.

“Aspire Command Center is equipped with advanced capabilities in real time monitoring of various operational areas across all eight football stadiums in Doha, centrally and remotely. We can take corrective actions based on predefined standard operating procedures and respond to incidents in a proactive manner both during an event as well as under non-event operational mode, thanks to UNISTAD, the centralized technology platform behind the scenes,” says Hamad Al Mohannadi, Director of Aspire Command Center.

“Running a football stadium during an event is almost as complicated as running a small city,” comments Mohamed Mikou, Chief Operating Officer and CMO, Microsoft Middle East and Africa. “But because UNISTAD runs using the formidable computing power of Microsoft Azure, the command center can troubleshoot even the most complex situations as they arise by accessing a wealth of data and telemetry in real time.”

Drawing on these insights, operators aim to ensure event proceedings are seamless to the point they can establish the optimal cooling temperature based on the number of people in the stadium or redirect groups to different entrances and exits to help them avoid long queues and overcrowding. If, for example, a power issue occurred, the management team would have real-time insight into what caused the breakage, enabling them to resolve the outage quickly and efficiently.

From the operations management to green building methods that optimize resource efficiency and reduce emissions and waste, the country hopes to set a new standard in sustainability for future football tournaments. The Ras Abu Abboud stadium, for example, has been constructed from shipping containers made from recycled steel.

A digital-first in football history

A team of experts analyse data from the Aspire Command Center.

It’s the power of the cloud which makes it possible for the UNISTAD operations team to visualize different parts of the stadium “live” using a unique concept called the digital twin.

The solution was developed by Microsoft partner, JCI, and is a digital-first in sports history. It will dramatically increase the speed and efficiency with which officials are able to respond to potential incidents. “We have replicated the complexity of the stadium in a virtual world. Just as you would with virtual reality, we can move around the stadium, floor by floor, viewing the equipment in every room,” explains Abdulrahiman.

The digital twin is also a game-changer when it comes to safety and security. If, for example, a forced-door entry alarm triggers in the command centre, the alarm will feature on the digital twin itself, providing officials with an instant real-time view of the room in which the alarm has triggered. From the command center, they can immediately access the CCTV visuals of the room in question and respond to the incident with appropriate action.

UNISTAD’s revolutionary approach to safety at sporting events is not simply about managing incidents, but ultimately preventing them by using predictive analytics. That’s where cloud technology and data play another important role.

“If you think about safety and risk management, it’s all about understanding patterns – the flow of people and events and identifying bottlenecks and weaknesses. This technology will give a lot more visibility to those things, making experiences a lot better and safer,” says Ramshanker Krishnan Microsoft EMEA Azure Cloud and AI leader for Industry Solutions.

For example, using data from previous crowding situations at turnstile gates, officials can foresee the emerging risk of people pushing against one another and potentially creating a safety and security hazard. They also know how long it will be before the gate is overcrowded, enabling them to respond timeously.

Unleashing the full potential of data

Beyond safety and security, technology is transforming almost every aspect of the spectator experience.

“Cloud technology offers vast potential for a more engaging spectator experience,” adds Mikou. “The wealth of data generated by the cloud will help to create truly immersive experiences for fans – to the extent that analytics can be used, for example, to predict the probability of a goal being scored based on the positioning of players on the field.”

The technology powering sports events is evolving all the time, laying the foundation for bigger and better experiences. In many ways, the introduction of UNISTAD’s ‘connected stadium concept’ to major football tournaments will be looked back on as a milestone in sports history. “The very fact that the platform lives on Microsoft Azure means it can be replicated and enhanced in sports events happening across the world – opening the door to even more exciting possibilities for the future,” concludes Mikou.