No sport in Delhi as cricketers choke in smog: Doctors
Unprecedented scenes of Sri Lankan cricketers wearing face masks have reignited debate about hosting major sports in heavily polluted New Delhi, where doctors are increasingly vocal about the health risks posed by smog.
Medics urged cricket’s governing body to revise its rulebook after the third Test match between India and Sri Lanka went ahead in the capital despite players visibly struggling and wheezing for air.
Sri Lankan fast bowler Suranga Lakmal vomited twice on the ground while fielding on day four of the match on Tuesday, before returning to the dressing room looking pale and sick.
Groundsmen rushed in to cover the spot with sand and sawdust as air pollution at Feroz Shah Kotla stadium soared to hit 15 times the World Health Organization’s safe level.
A doctor present at the stadium examined three Sri Lankan players and said their vitals were normal.
But the visiting side had complained of illness in the days before, with the match halted three times on Sunday as umpires consulted team doctors before allowing play to resume.
The Indian Medical Association condemned that decision, warning that playing in such conditions put athletes’ health at serious risk.
IMA president K. K Aggarwal said, “This match should not have taken place in the first place. It is time the ICC (International Cricket Council) comes up with a policy on pollution.”
India’s powerful cricket board accused Sri Lanka of making a “big fuss”, pointing to Indian skipper Virat Kohli who hit a record sixth Test double century despite the smog.
But the US embassy website has repeatedly urged Delhi residents to “avoid all outdoor exertion” as concentrations of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants known as PM2.5 soared to hazardous levels.
Pollution levels generally rise during the winter in Delhi and across northern India and neighbouring Pakistan, fuelled by crop burning in the region and the fact that cooler air traps particulates close to the ground.
The smog has become especially alarming in the past two years, casting doubt on the future of sports events in the sports-mad swathe of South Asia.
Former Pakistani captain and political opposition leader Imran Khan about the India-Sri Lanka Test tweeted, “This should be a wake up call for Pak. Our children are at a huge risk because of dangerous pollution levels.”
Doctors and public health campaigners have escalated their fight against sports events in Delhi in recent years.