Is cricket sustainable in the face of climate change?

The joke is that if you want rain in the Caribbean during a wetter-than-usual summer, just start a cricket match.

Behind the humor is a seemingly tacit acknowledgment in the 2018 climate report that of all the major outdoor sports that rely on fields or pitches, “cricket will be the most affected by climate change”.

By some accounts, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, after football, with between two and three billion fans. And it is most widely used in countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa and the West Indies, which are also the most vulnerable to extreme heat, rain, floods, droughts, hurricanes, forest fires and seas. The rise in levels is linked to human-caused 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. Warmer air can hold more moisture, causing heavy rains. Of the 21 warmest years on record, 20 occurred after 2000.

This year the sport faced the Indian subcontinent’s hottest spring in more than a century of record-keeping and the hottest day in Britain. In June, when the West Indies – a combined team of predominantly English-speaking Caribbean countries – arrived for three matches in Multan, Pakistan, temperatures reached 111 degrees Fahrenheit, above average even in one of the hottest places on Earth.

“It honestly felt like you were opening an oven,” said Akeal Hossain, 29, of the West Indies, who was wearing ice vests with his teammates during a break.

Heat is hardly the only concern for cricketers. Like tennis and batting sports closely related to baseball, cricket cannot be easily played in the rain. In July, the West Indies abandoned a match in Dominica and cut short others in Guyana and Trinidad due to rain and waterlogged pitches.

The eight-match series between the West Indies and India concludes on Saturday and Sunday in South Florida as the height of the hurricane season approaches in the Gulf and Atlantic. In 2017, two Category 5 storms, Irma and Maria, damaged cricket stadiums in five Caribbean countries.

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

According to the 2019 Cricket and Climate Change Report, a professional batsman playing in one day can generate heat equivalent to running a marathon. While marathon runners help dissipate heat by wearing shorts and singlets, wearing pads, gloves and helmets in cricket limits the ability to evaporate sweat in hot, humid conditions that often lack shade.

“It’s pretty obvious that travel plans are disrupted by weather conditions, along with match schedules, rain, smoke, pollution, dust and heat,” said Darren Ganga, 43, a commentator and former West Indies captain who studies. Impact of climate change on sports in association with the University of the West Indies.

“Measures need to be taken to manage this situation,” Ganga said, “because I think we’ve crossed a tipping point in some areas. We still have the opportunity to push back in other areas.”

The International Cricket Council, the sport’s governing body, has yet to sign the UN Sport and Climate Initiative. Its aim is for global sports organizations to reduce their carbon footprint to net zero emissions by 2050 and to inspire society to urgently address this issue. Although Australia has implemented heat guidelines and generally allows more water breaks during matches, there is no global policy for playing in extreme weather. The Cricket Board did not respond to a request for comment.

The suggestion in the 2019 Climate Report that players should be allowed to wear shorts instead of pants to keep cool in extreme heat may seem like common sense. But it didn’t sit well with the starchy customs of international cricket or, it seems, with many of the players who say their feet will be even more susceptible to burns and bruises from slipping and diving on hard pitches.

“Two of my knees are already gone,” said India’s Yuzvendra Chahal, who is 32 years old.

Still, questions are being raised about the sustainability of cricket within and outside the sport in the face of extreme climate conditions and grueling scheduling of different formats of the game. England star Ben Stokes retired from the one-day international format on July 19, saying, “We are not cars that you fill with petrol and run.”

Coincidentally, Stokes’ retirement came as Britain recorded its hottest day ever, 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 one-day cricket match against South Africa in the modestly cool northeastern city of Durham. Additional water breaks, ice packs and beach-style umbrellas were used to keep players cool. Despite this precaution, England’s Matthew Potts left the match exhausted.

South African Aiden Markram was photographed with an ice pack on his head and another on his neck, his face clearly distressed, as if he had been in a heavyweight fight. Some fans reportedly passed out or sought medical attention, while others tried to get thin slices of shade.

On June 9, South Africa also endured taxing conditions when they faced India in the heat, humidity and pollution of New Delhi. The heat index for the evening game was 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Part of the stadium was converted into a spectator cooling area, with curtains, chairs and mist fans attached to plastic tubs 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 start 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 Mehendiratha, 17, attending his first match with his father since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

After watching some spectacular batting, his father, Naresh, said, “It gives me chills.”

However, South Africa have not been taking chances since the 2015 tour of India, when eight players and two members of the coaching and support staff were hospitalized in the southern city of Chennai for what officials said was a combination of food poisoning and heat. tiredness

“It was a mess,” said Craig Govender, South Africa’s team physiotherapist.

On the recent tour of South Africa, Govender took inflatable tubes to cool the players’ feet; Electrolyte capsules during meals; ice and magnesium deposits; and ice towels for 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. Their urine color was monitored to prevent dehydration. During the June 9 game, some players jumped into the ice bath to cool off.

In 2017, Sri Lankan players wore masks and kept oxygen bottles in the dressing room to combat heavy pollution during a match in New Delhi. Some players vomited on the pitch.

In 2018, England captain Joe Root was hospitalized with gastrointestinal problems, severe dehydration and heat stress during the notorious five-day Ashes Test in Sydney, Australia. At one point, the heat index tracker registered 57.6 degrees Celsius, or 135.7 Fahrenheit.

The incident prompted Tony Irish, then head of the International Cricket Association, to ask: “What would it take for a player to fall on the pitch?” before cricket’s governing body implemented an extreme heat policy.

Also in 2018, Indian players were asked to limit their showers to two minutes during a game in Cape Town during a prolonged drought there, which led to the cancellation of club and school cricket.

In 2019, the air in Sydney became so smoky during the bushfire crisis that Australian footballer 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 fielders’ concerns about seed germination, pests and fungal diseases. Even Lord’s, London’s venerable cricket ground, has occasionally been forced to relax its draconian dress code, most recently in mid-July when patrons were not required to wear jackets in unprecedented heat.

Athletes are being asked to “compete in an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to human physiology,” wrote Russell Seymour, a sustainability pioneer at Lord’s, in a climate report last year. “Our love and appetite for sport risks devolving into cruelty.”

To be fair, some measures have been taken to mitigate climate change. Matches sometimes start late in the day or are rescheduled. Australian captain Cummins took the initiative to install solar panels on the roofs of cricket clubs there. Lord’s is fully powered by wind electricity. India’s National Green Tribunal, a specialized body dealing with environmental issues, has ruled that treated wastewater should be used to irrigate cricket fields instead of potable groundwater, which is in short supply.

players Indian Premier League club Royal Challengers Bangalore Wear green jerseys for a few matches to increase environmental awareness. Team members appeared in a climate video during this spring’s devastating heat wave, which included this comforting fact: “It was the hottest temperature the country has seen in 122 years.”

Still, some in the cricketing world argue that climate change may not be the most immediate concern in developing countries, where the basics of daily life can be a struggle. And countries like India and Pakistan, where cricket is very popular, are the least responsible for climate change. There is a frequent admonition that the rich, developed countries that emit the largest amounts of greenhouse gases must also do their share to reduce these emissions.

“People in the US are flying on private jets and asking us not to use plastic straws,” said Dario Bartli, a West Indies team representative.

Keith Bennett contributed to the research.

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