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‘Extreme heat can be deadly:’ how cricket is handling the climate crisis | Sport

‘Extreme heat can be deadly:’ how cricket is handling the climate crisis | Sport

‘Manage the intensity,’ says Royal Challengers Bangalore captain, Faf du Plessis.

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A severe heatwave is sweeping southern Asia. It is important to act earlyIt was unprecedented. March was the hottest month since records began 122years ago in India. In Delhi, temperatures are expected to pass 44C this week; in Pakistan’s Balochistan region, the mercury has been touching 50C for some time. As electricity demand rises, crop failures are causing power shortages. To add to the toxic atmosphere, there are uncontrollable fires, including at landfill sites near Delhi.

The Indian Premier League will continue regardless. Faf duPlessis, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s captain, spoke last week about the challenges of playing under such severe conditions. “I take a lot of fluids before the game,” he said. “We practised today and it was very, very hot. It’s good to get your body used to what you are going to get with respect to the conditions. However, it is important to manage the intensity. When it is very hot, like it is at the moment, you have got to make sure you conserve as much as you can.”

“For instance, when you’re batting,” agreed the RCB bowler Harshal Patel, “when there’s a definite two, you try and take a two, but when there’s not a definite two, just try and conserve some energy.”

The Hit for Six 2019 report examined the psychological and physical dangers to cricketers from extreme heat, from heatstroke to impaired decision making. It pointed to the particular dangers to athletes of high wet-bulb temperatures, which measure how well humans cool down by sweating when it’s hot and humid. A wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT) of more than 35C is deadly – last week it hit 29C in cities in West Bengal and Odisha. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends extreme caution for any continuous exercise that has a WBGT of 23C+.

Hit for Six suggested, among other things, that countries develop heat rules, heat resistant clothing, and remind governing bodies of their duty of care to children. Children are less able and able to regulate their body temperature and are less able to use physios to ensure they are properly hydrated and prepared. Ice towels are also available at the boundary to cool them down.

‘Manage the intensity,’ says Royal Challengers Bangalore captain, Faf du Plessis.
‘Manage the intensity,’ says Royal Challengers Bangalore captain, Faf du Plessis.Photograph by RCB

Disha Shetty, a south Asian science journalist, sees little engagement with climate change. “We are having some conversations about why our school students are stepping out in that heat, but it needs a lot more engagement on the public health side, as well as decision-makers across different sectors, including sports administrators. Extreme heat can be fatal when combined with dehydration.

“I think in developing countries we have had a tendency to not invest much in public health but the climate crisis is a public health crisis. While this is understood in climate circles and public health circles, it isn’t acknowledged much outside of that. Given the extreme heat and high levels of air pollution in south Asia, we need to have huge conversations about how we manage our sports facilities. At the moment we just kind of live with it but there are certain things we are just not going to be able to live with and heatwaves will be one of them.”

In late April the Indian PFA wrote to the Indian Football Association, asking it to reschedule matches that were set to kick off at 3pm in the state of West Bengal with temperatures sitting at around 40C: “The health ministry’s notification states that people should stay indoors during this heatwave … it is rather sad and unfortunate that the Federation and the league organisers of the country have no concern on the health hazard faced by professional footballers playing in these extreme conditions.”

In India, though, it is cricketers, not footballers, who have voices loud enough to reach government – just as Marcus Rashford was able to in the UK over free school meals. Shetty believes that cricketing voices can be crucial to increasing understanding and action.

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“Cricketers in India have a lot of clout, a lot of following, and it would help tremendously if they would talk more about climate and environmental issues. In this changing climate, I wonder if sustainable sports will be possible. Cricket is a low-cost way of entertainment and joy but it is played out in the open and in a heating world that is going to be increasingly problematic.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate, told the Guardian Pakistan was facing an “existential crisis” – one that links it with India and other countries in the global south who are and will be experiencing the climate emergency disproportionately to their historic emissions.

“I see a distinct difference in the way this heatwave is covered in the Indian media and the western media,” says Shetty. “In the western media, questions are centred around what should Indian and Pakistan leaders do, whereas in the Indian media we are talking a lot more about equity and how the rest of the world is going to have to reduce its carbon emissions.

“We are talking about what historically high carbon emitters are going to do to help those without that footprint – a conversation that I don’t see a lot of western publications having. The solutions to climate change will not be limited to the developing world. Global climate emissions have to be brought down, not just in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.”

This idea was mentioned in the Hit for Six Report, which suggested that the ICC create a global fund for climate change to aid countries most affected by the crisis. Three years later, no progress has been made.

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