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How’s that Indian cricket? The choke is on us

For the first time in history, a cricket team took to the field with pollution masks. The NGT has slammed the authorities for hosting the match and India’s reputation as a sporting venue is dented.

editorials Updated: Dec 04, 2017 23:10 IST
Hindustan Times
Cricket,Air Pollution,India
Sri Lanka cricket players wear masks in an attempt to protect themselves from air pollution during the second day of the third Test cricket match between India and Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla Cricket Stadium in New Delhi on December 3, 2017. (AFP)

It’s like trying to bowl in a gas chamber. The National Green Tribunal has slammed the organisers for holding the final Test match between India and Sri Lanka at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla in the face of hazardous air quality. It has reason to be upset. In a first-ever incident of its kind in the 140-year-history of the gentleman’s game, an international cricket team wore anti-pollution masks while fielding and had to be persuaded to play on.

But it isn’t the first time questions have been raised over the fitness of Delhi’s air for athletes. In November 2016, two Ranji Trophy matches slated to be played in Delhi – Gujarat against Bengal at the Feroz Shah Kotla, and Hyderabad versus Tripura at the Karnail Singh Stadium – were called off. Last month, when the air pollution was severe, doctors had warned against outdoor activities and participating in the Delhi Half Marathon. On Sunday, Javier Ceppi, tournament director of the FIFA U17 World Cup held recently in India, said athletes’ health is being compromised. “You can’t host sport events in Delhi from Diwali till end of Feb, at least. It is a fact. We had to accommodate our whole schedule to avoid it and others should also think about athletes’ health first #DelhiSmog,” he tweeted.

Sporting activity leads to inhalation of greater volumes of fine pollutants of Particulate Matter 10 and Particulate Matter 2.5 that can collect in the lungs and cause irreversible injury to the tissue, leading to chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema and even lung cancer. The Central Pollution Control Board has admitted as much. Our credibility as a sporting venue is dented. With an air quality index (AQI) measure of 368 on Sunday – deemed to be ‘very poor’ by the pollution control board – such incidents are likely to hit India’s dreams of hosting big ticket events such as the Olympics and the football World Cup. With the deterioration in air quality, it is unlikely the International Olympic Committee or FIFA will imperil the health of athletes from around the world.

The green panel tore into the Delhi government on its inaction . “The next stage is emergency levels. Tell us one thing that the government, corporations, state pollution control boards have done in the last four days. Look at the people abandoning the match.” More people die of pollution in India than anywhere else in the world. According to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, 2.5 million Indians succumbed to pollution-related health problems in 2015 alone. Health ministry data suggests 10 people died of respiratory issues every day in the national capital region. Last month, when the AQI levels went higher than 200, declaring that Delhi was in the grip of a health emergency, the Indian Medical Association warned schools to refrain from giving permissions to cricket matches and marathons. What makes the Board of Control for Cricket in India think it can get away with exposing cricketers and thousands of spectators to noxious pollution? What is the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority for the national capital region (EPA) doing? Whatever happened to the city’s much vaunted Graded Response Action Plan? The Centre and the AAP government seem to be playing a game of pass the buck. Do we need drastic interventions such as the Supreme Court’s ban on crackers? For the sake of the city, every stakeholder affected by pollution — whether it is the State, residents and non-profits — need to forget their differences to adopt cleaner practices and technologies and display the political will to take on air pollution. We cannot continue to choke our way through as usual.

First Published: Dec 04, 2017 19:31 IST