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Is Cricket Sustainable Amid Climate Change?

The joke is that if you want it to rain during this wetter-than-usual Caribbean summer, you just have to start a cricket match.

Beneath the humor is a seemingly tacit agreement with the statement in a 2018 climate report that of all the major outdoor sports that rely on pitches or fields, “cricket is hit hardest by climate change.”

By some standards, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after football, with two to three billion fans. And it is most embraced in countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa and in the West Indies which are also among the places most vulnerable to the intense heat, rain, floods, drought, hurricanes , wildfires and sea level rise associated with anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Cricket in developed countries such as England and Australia has also been affected as heat waves become hotter, more frequent and longer lasting. Warm air can hold more moisture, resulting in heavier rainfall. Twenty of the 21 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.

This year, the sport has seen the hottest spring on the Indian subcontinent in over a century on record and the hottest day on record in Britain. In June, when the West Indies — a combined team from mostly English-speaking countries in the Caribbean — arrived to play three games in Multan, Pakistan, the temperature reached 111 degrees Fahrenheit, above average even for one of the hottest places on Earth.

“It really felt like you were opening a furnace,” said Akeal Hosein, 29, of the West Indies, who wore ice vests with his teammates during intermissions in the game.

Heat is not the only concern for cricketers. Like the roughly similar pitching and batting sport of baseball, cricket is not easy to play in the rain. In July, the West Indies stopped one game in Dominica and shortened the other games in Guyana and Trinidad due to rain and swampy fields.

An eight-game series between the West Indies and India will conclude Saturday and Sunday in South Florida as the peak of hurricane season in the Gulf and Atlantic approaches. In 2017, two Category 5 storms, Irma and Maria, destroyed cricket stadiums in five countries in the Caribbean.

Matches can last up to five days. Even one-day races can last seven hours or more in blistering conditions. While the rain cleared on July 22 for the 9:30 am opening of the West Indies series in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, players still had to contend with eight hours of sunshine at Queen’s Park Oval in temperatures reaching the low 90s. reached with 60-plus percent humidity.

According to a 2019 report on cricket and climate change, a professional batsman playing for more than a day can generate heat comparable to running a marathon. While marathoners help dissipate heat by wearing shorts and tank tops, wearing pads, gloves and a helmet in cricket limits the ability to evaporate sweat in hot, humid conditions where there is often no shade.

“It’s pretty clear that travel plans are disrupted by weather conditions, along with race scheduling, because of rain, smoke, pollution, dust and heat,” said Daren Ganga, 43, a commentator and former West Indies captain. the impact of climate change on sport in collaboration with the University of the West Indies.

“Action needs to be taken for us to manage this situation,” Ganga said, “because I think we have crossed the tipping point in some areas. We still have the opportunity to pull things back in other areas.”

The International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body, has not yet signed a United Nations Sports and Climate Initiative. The goal is for global sports organizations to reduce their carbon footprint to net-zero emissions by 2050 and inspire the public to urgently think about the issue. While Australia has implemented heat guidelines, and more water breaks are generally allowed during matches, there is no global policy for playing in extreme weather. The cricket council did not respond to a request for comment.

A suggestion in the 2019 climate report that players should be allowed to wear shorts instead of trousers to keep cool in extreme heat may seem like common sense. But things haven’t gone down well with the starchy customs of international cricket or seemingly many players, who say their legs would be even more prone to burns and bruises from sliding and diving on hard pitches.

“My two knees are already gone,” said 32-year-old Yuzvendra Chahal from India.

Yet questions are being raised within the sport and beyond about the sustainability of cricket amid the extreme weather conditions and exhaustive planning of different formats of the game. British star Ben Stokes retired on July 19 of the one-day international format, saying, “We’re not cars where you can fill us up with gasoline and let us go.”

Coincidentally, Stokes retired when Britain recorded its hottest day on record, with temperatures rising above 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time. As climate scientists said such heat could become the new normal, England hosted a day-long cricket match with South Africa in the modestly cooler northeastern city of Durham. Extra water breaks, ice packs and beach style umbrellas were used to keep the players cool. Even with those precautions, Matthew Potts from England left the game, exhausted.

Aiden Markram of South Africa was photographed with an ice pack on his head and another on his neck, his face in apparent distress, as if he had fought in a heavyweight fight. Some fans are said to have passed out or sought medical attention, while many others sought thin slices of shade.

On June 9, South Africa also faced challenging conditions as it faced India in the heat, humidity and pollution of New Delhi. The heat index was 110 degrees Fahrenheit for an evening game. Part of the stadium was transformed into a cooling zone for spectators, with curtains, seats and misting fans attached to plastic containers of water.

“We’re used to it,” said Shikhar Dhawan, 36, one of India’s captains. “I don’t really focus on the heat because if I start thinking about it too much, I’m going to feel it more.”

In India, cricketers are as popular as Bollywood actors. Even in sauna-like conditions, more than 30,000 spectators attended the match in New Delhi. “It feels great. Who cares about the heat?” said Saksham Mehndiratta, 17, who attended his first game with his father since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

After watching some spectacular at bats, his father, Naresh, said, “This gives me the shivers.”

South Africa, however, took no chances after touring India in 2015, when eight players and two members of the coaching and support staff in the southern city of Chennai were hospitalized from what officials said were the combined effects of food poisoning and heat. exhaustion.

“It was chaos,” said Craig Govender, physiotherapist on the South African team.

For the recent tour of South Africa, Govender brought inflatable bathtubs to cool players’ feet; electrolyte capsules for meals; slushies of ice and magnesium; and ice towels for the shoulders, face and back. South Africa’s uniforms were ventilated behind the knees, along the seams and under the armpits. Players were weighed before and after training. The color of their urine was checked to prevent dehydration. During the June 9 game, some players jumped into ice baths to cool off.

2017, Sri Lankan players wore masks and had oxygen bottles available in the locker room to combat the heavy pollution during a match in New Delhi. Some players vomited on the field.

in 2018, the English captain Joe Root was hospitalized with gastrointestinal distress, severe dehydration and heat stress during the famous five-day Ashes test in Sydney, Australia. At one point, a heat index tracker recorded 57.6 degrees Celsius or 135.7 Fahrenheit.

The incident prompted Tony Irish, then the head of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association, to ask: “What does it take – a player who collapses on the pitch?” before cricket’s governing body had an extreme heat policy.

Also in 2018, India’s players were asked to limit showers to two minutes while playing in Cape Town during a prolonged drought there that caused the cancellation of club and school cricket.

2019, Sydney air got so smoky during bushfire crisis that Australian player Steve O’Keefe said it felt like ‘smoking 80 cigarettes a day’.

Climate change has affected every aspect of cricket, from batting and bowling strategy to horticulturists’ concerns about seed germination, pests and fungal diseases. Even Lord’s, the venerable cricket ground in Londonhas sometimes been forced to relax its stale dress code, most recently in mid-July, when customers were not required to wear jackets in the unprecedented heat.

Athletes are asked “to compete in environments that are becoming too hostile for human physiology”, Russell Seymour, a sustainability pioneer at Lord’s, wrote in a climate report last year. “Our love and appetite for sports is in danger of straying into brutality.”

To be fair, some measures have been taken to help mitigate climate change. Matches sometimes start later in the day or are rescheduled. Cummins, the Australian captain, has started an initiative to have solar panels installed on the roofs of cricket clubs there. Lord’s runs entirely on wind energy. The National Green Tribunal of India, a specialist body dealing with environmental issues, has ruled that treated wastewater should be used to irrigate cricket pitches rather than potable groundwater, which is scarce.

Players on the Royal Challengers Bangalore club of the Indian Premier League wear green uniforms at some matches to raise environmental awareness. Team members appeared in a climate video during a devastating heatwave this spring, including this sobering fact: “This is the hottest temperature the country has faced in 122 years.”

But some in the cricket world say that climate change cannot be expected to be the most immediate concern in developing countries, where the basis of everyday life can be a struggle. And countries like India and Pakistan, where cricket is hugely popular, are among the least responsible for climate change. You hear the frequent admonition that rich, developed countries that emit the greatest amount of greenhouse gases must also do their part to reduce those emissions.

“In the US, people are flying in private jets asking us not to use plastic straws,” said Dario Barthley, a spokesperson for the West India team.

Kitty Bennett research contributed.

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