The recent Sri Lanka-India cricket match played at Feroze Shah Kotla grounds in Delhi, highlighted a problem that the Govt of Delhi has preferred to shove under the carpet. The match made it to global headlines not because of any swashbuckling cricketing skills but the unusual sight of Sri Lankan cricketers wearing masks while fielding. Play had to be suspended twice, for brief intervals, due to the discomfort expressed by the visiting team. Some of them felt queasy and even threw up.
The air quality that Sunday was visibly poor, a pall of gloom hung over the city enveloping it in thick smog. However, the reaction from cricket-crazy Indians was surprising. Social Media was agog with defensive fans calling the reaction of the Sri Lankans a ‘farce’ enacted to divert attention from a losing situation. Instead of focussing on the AQI and feeling ashamed of hosting a match in such polluted air, Indian fans chose to attribute motives to the adverse reaction from the Sri Lankans. Whatever may be the case, the least that a match-hosting country can do is ensure a safe and healthy environment for playing.
Delhiites who are screwing Sri Lanka today:
1. Virat Kohli
2. Ishant Sharma
— SAGAR (@sagarcasm) December 3, 2017
— Dolla Bill (@Trollsnpjs) December 3, 2017
Then : Bowl a no ball to deny @virendersehwag a century.
Now : Wear masks, blame pollution and cause distuption to escape from getting butchered.
— Trollywood (@TrollywoodOffl) December 3, 2017
Several Indian fans ridiculed the visiting team for trumping up excuses to avoid a drubbing. They questioned the uneasiness evinced by the Sri Lanka fielders, saying there was no such reaction from the batting team or the spectators. Perhaps it would be pertinent to point out here that the Indians, being the hosts, could hardly afford to express dissatisfaction against their own country. Also, most Indians are by now used to breathing in this foul air that seems to have become a permanent feature in Delhi. Why should a foreign team put the lungs of its players at risk, just because Indians have a ‘chalta hai’ attitude and our Govt. has failed to regard the lethal air pollution as a serious health hazard?
A comparison made between the air quality in the two countries on the day the match was played, showed the AQI at a low 89 in Sri Lanka and a whopping 300 plus in Delhi.
This was an Asian team, imagine the consequences had the visiting team been from Europe or Australia! Would those snooty players from more developed nations have agreed to quietly continue with the match in the dirty, sooty air that has continued to cover the Capital for a good two months now?
Delhi’s leading doctors have been issuing health advisories against outdoor exercise of any kind. Was it wise to choose Delhi as a match-venue under such circumstances? Not only were the players and spectators exposed to highly polluted air, India became the topic of unsavoury, unflattering global headlines. Predictably, in the midst of all this negative publicity, the Delhi Govt. remained unflappable.
‘The Express‘ (UK) headline: “India vs Sri Lanka descends into farce due to POLLUTION as players wear face masks in Delhi.” The report goes on to state that play had to be suspended because of the Delhi smog and that Sri Lankan fielders wore masks with the Indian team’s 12th Man donning one while bringing out the drinks to the field. Play had to be suspended for almost 20 minutes while the Umpires discussed this unusual situation with the captain of the Indian side.
‘The South China Monitor’ reported, “Play is routinely suspended due to poor weather, low visibility, lightning or rain but a stoppage as a result of pollution is almost unheard of.” The 3rd December headline of ‘The Guardian’ read: “Pollution stops play at Delhi Test Match as bowlers struggle to breathe.” According to this reporter Michael Safi, it was the first recorded instance of an international match being halted due to smog. He wrote that the match was “repeatedly interrupted” with claims that players were “continuously vomiting due to hazardous pollution levels in the Indian capital.”
In countries like China, which have been plagued by pollution of similar levels, international sporting events have been hosted at venues only after initiating strict measures to control air pollution. Why is India so indifferent to similar measures? Why are we so prone to spending our time and energy in deflecting and disproving criticism instead of using such incidents as a wake-up call to force the authorities to take some urgent measures to literally clean up their act!