NEW DELHI: 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 a Test match between India and Sri Lanka went ahead in the capital despite players vomiting and wheezing for air.
Concentrations of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants in Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted capitals, hit 384 – 15 times the World Health Organization maximum – before returning to levels considered just “unhealthy”, the US embassy website showed.
International cricketers returned on Monday for day three of the third Test even as air pollution at Feroz Shah Kotla stadium soared to hit 18 times the World Health Organisation’s safe level.
The play had been disrupted three times on Sunday as Sri Lankan players complained of illness, but umpires ruled the match would proceed.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) condemned the decision, warning that playing in such conditions put athletes’ health at serious risk.
“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,” said IMA president K. K Aggarwal.
“You have fast bowlers, batsmen and fielders out there exposed to these very harmful pollutants over five days at a stretch. It takes a serious toll on your health in the long run.”
The sport’s governing body declined to comment.
India’s powerful cricket board Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) 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 United States (US) embassy website on Monday 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.
These tiny particles – a fraction the size of human hair – lodge deep in the lungs and are linked to higher rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease.
The concentration of such particles on Monday hit 448, compared to a maximum level of 25 considered safe by the World Health Organisation over a 24-hour period.
Even limited exposure can cause shortness of breath and make the eyes weep and throat burn.
Sri Lanka coach Pothas said his men were physically sick amid the “extremely high” pollution levels choking the ground.
“We had players coming off the field and vomiting,” he told reporters after the match. “There were oxygen cylinders in the change room. It’s not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game.”
Pothas said Lakmal was “continuously vomiting” in the changing room, where the team doctors and the match referee had gathered to assess the situation.