India-Sri Lanka Test: Let’s not mask India’s pollution problem | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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India-Sri Lanka Test: Let’s not mask India’s pollution problem

In my opinion, the problem needs to be delinked from cricket else it is missing the woods for the trees

mumbai Updated: Dec 07, 2017 23:57 IST
Ayaz Memon
A Sri Lankan player with the mask owing to high pollution levels in Delhi.
A Sri Lankan player with the mask owing to high pollution levels in Delhi.

Sri Lanka’s players were surprisingly mocked for wearing face-masks in the Test match in Delhi. This certainly wasn’t against the laws, rather seemed a practical preventive measure against smog, though admittedly unusual because it’s not happened in cricket earlier.

From a health perspective, however, this wasn’t different from overseas players (particularly those not from the sub-continent) constantly taking mineral salts to avoid dehydration in the draining heat and humidity of Mumbai or Chennai.

I know a few renowned cricketers who never took the field at the Wankhede without gulping down large quantities of such fluids and also carrying them in powder form in their pockets just in case. This is being cautious, not paranoid.

Let’s look at another example. Thirty-odd years back, batsmen hardly wore helmets. Those who did were thought to be ‘soft’. Today, there is hardly anybody who bats without a helmet. A couple of tragedies have highlighted the danger and everybody is wiser.

Safety of athletes has become one of the prime issues in modern sport. True, competitive sport involves physical hardships, but increasingly, threat to the well-being of a player is being seen as a no-no.

If anything, the Lankans should have been shown empathy for having to deal with a situation that bothers everybody in North India. Instead, they were ridiculed for being namby-pamby and ‘theatrical’ by misplaced chest thumping in several quarters.

The Indian team’s stand seemed to unkindly insinuate that the Lankans were trying to save themselves from a battering by the home team. But even if they did try to buy time, what’s pertinent is after the protests, they did not walk off and play resumed.

Interestingly, some Indian players (when off the field) were also spotted with face-masks. And it was not only the Lankans who were affected by the pollution for even Mohamed Shami ended up retching on the ground.

From a medical point of view, Dr Narendra Nair (M.D.), former Head of Radiation Medicine Centre (BARC) at Parel’s Tata Memorial Hospital and avid cricket lover explains the problem in terms a layman can understand.

“In atmospheric pollution you often read of PM 2.5, PM 10 and so on. PM stands for Particulate Matter, suspended bits of tiny particles from the mechanical breakdown of stuff in dust, construction material, coal, etc into real small bits, upto 2.5 microns.

“These PM 2.5 guys stick on the walls of the air sacs and cannot be dislodged. They damage the slender walls of sacs by breaking them up. Over time, this causes chronic lung diseases like asthma, emphysema etc. Some break free into the blood, encircling the lungs and pass into the heart, and can cause damage to vessels there too.

“At best of times, the AQI in Delhi has not been known to be healthy. Over the past 48-72 hours, the AQI was found to be between 180 and 460! The lungs of Sri Lankans have been exposed to good quality air all their lives because the AQI in their country is excellent. Should it surprise anybody they found breathing the toxic Delhi air difficult?’’

In my opinion, the problem needs to be delinked from cricket else it is missing the woods for the trees. Pollution in the capital has been a hugely vexing issue, and failure to address it is symptomatic of a national insensitivity to environment. That is the crux.

While Mumbai may not have the threat of smog as north India does, pollution remains a peril: from how the garbage dump at Deonar is treated, to filth along the coastline – Versova to Gateway of India – not mentioning toxic fumes from unabated growth in vehicles in the absence of an effective mass transport system.

In a sense, Delhi’s problem is gradually becoming symptomatic for all cities with unplanned growth. The air is becoming unbreathable. The government knows, the medical community knows, manufacturers of air purifiers definitely know, as do hapless citizens.

The Sri Lankan players also perhaps knew, but complained about it in a manner that riled some sections in the country into smog-induced nationalism instead of seeing it is a timely wake-up call.

What else can one make of the ludicrous arguments put forward to attack the visiting team?