World Cup 2022: Football fabrics and the battle against the Qatari heat

25 November 2022

Dr Tasneem Sabir explores how cutting-edge and green football kit technology keeps players cool

With the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 now underway, Dr Tasneem Sabir, Senior Lecturer in Textiles Technology at Manchester Fashion Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, discusses the fabrication and design of football kits - and how advanced technology has been used to keep players cool and comfortable on the pitch.

For the first time in football history, the World Cup is being hosted during the winter months to ensure players aren’t playing during the high temperatures usually found in Qatar during the summer months.

Temperatures in Qatar could reach an average of 40 to 50 degrees during the summer months, whereas in the winter temperatures range from 30 to 20 degrees. However, these temperatures are still considerably higher than the average temperatures in the UK for this time of the year.

November and December are typically some of Qatar’s most humid months which will also have a significant impact on players during the game. Consequently, we have seen football kits undergo some vital adaptations during their fabrication and design to make sure they can keep players cool and comfortable on the pitch during the hotter temperatures.

Lightweight and breathable materials

When thinking about the design of football kits for the World Cup tournament, one of the most important things to consider is the material used.

The hot conditions players will find themselves facing will ultimately have an impact on their performance on the pitch, so choosing the right material for the environment where it will be worn is essential.

Synthetic materials like polyester are the preferred choice for football kits as they have been engineered to be lightweight. As well as being lightweight, it is breathable and can wick away moisture making it a great choice to be worn in hot and dry climates.

The use of breathable materials ensures that players don’t overheat during the game by keeping their core body temperature regulated. The open knit structure of the garment allows the players’ own cooling system through sweating to function efficiently. With hot and humid conditions, players may often wear cooling vests before and after the game.

Motion-capture technology

The design process for creating a new football kit will include vital input from the players and the wider team, especially when playing in a different environment to usual.

The environment will have been tested as part of the design process to make sure that the new kits will be suitable for the hotter temperatures and keep players cool and comfortable on the pitch.

England’s new kits for the World Cup, manufactured by Nike, are seamless and make use of Dri-FIT ADV technology, the next generation of moisture-wicking fabrics that are paving the way for the future of sport apparel.  

It uses an engineered microfibre, with a polyester base material, which has excellent moisture wicking abilities. This technology combines moisture-wicking fabric with advanced engineering and features that allow the body to maintain its core temperature, meaning players can remain cool while performing to the best of their ability.

Sports innovation companies have thermal motion captured players to gain valuable insight into where on the body they will generate the most heat during movement.

The in-depth data from the heat mapping is used by textile engineers to tailor the garment by placing intelligent fabrics, vents, and meshes in high-heat and sweat zones to keep players cool by moving the heat away from the body.

The panel meshes that are used not only provide breathability, but the material has added UV protection built in using a chemical substance on the material. UV protection might be less of a consideration here as the material is lightweight with an open structure and white materials often absorb less heat than darker colours.

Sustainable design

Sustainability is high on the agenda of the textiles and clothing industry, and it has been a top priority for sports manufacturers when designing new football kits for the World Cup.

Adidas, who have manufactured home and away kits for five World Cup teams – Argentina, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and Spain – have made sustainability a priority in their design process.

Their kits are made from 100% recycled polyester and features a yarn which contains 50% Parley Ocean Plastic, which is reimagined plastic waste, intercepted on remote islands, beaches, coastal communities and shorelines, preventing it from polluting our ocean.

While Nike’s England kits for the World Cup have been made with more than 75% recycled materials, including recycled polyester.

There’s still a long way to go within the sports textile industry but it’s positive to see global brands like Adidas and Nike leading the way with their sustainable designs for the World Cup and implementing more sustainable practices.   

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