A month ago when smog-hit Delhi hosted the half-marathon, it was hailed as the world’s most dangerous run.
It was a bit uncharitable but hit its mark when men’s winner, Birhanu Legese of Ethiopia, said after the race that the elite competitors “were scared” after numerous health warnings about the smog and its potential long-term damage to lungs and other vital organs were aired and printed on an everyday basis.
Part of the fear was news that the Beijing Marathon a couple of years earlier had been severely hit by similar smog and had resulted in heart attacks to six runners and an official.
The president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), KK Aarwal, was quoted on the eve of the run as saying that the Delhi half marathon runners were at risk for lung-related problems and heart attacks owing to severe pollution and presence of suspended particles in the air.
Thus, while Sri Lanka cricketers’ reactions on Sunday could be passed off as an attempt to escape an inevitable pounding at the hands of India, it must be accepted that Delhi has a history with smog and its disruptive influence on sport and normal life.
It must be remembered that just last season, two Ranji Trophy matches, Bengal vs Gujarat and Hyderabad vs Tripura, were called off as the players complained of burning sensation in their eyes and also dry and hoarse throats. The teams believed that the conditions were unplayable and would hurt their cricketers in the short and long run. The umpires complied, even if it seemed a bit of an overreaction.
Courts, government, NGOs and others have tried various things to minimise or eliminate the smog in Delhi. These steps include the odd-even rule, mandatory switch to CNG buses, banning the sale of fire crackers ahead of Diwali, shutting down of schools as a health precaution for children, attempts to ban construction activities in winter, among others.
Sadly, none of these have addressed what experts believe is the reason: residual crop-burning in many parts of north India.
That apart, it is evident that smog will cause long-term damage to breathing, as repeatedly warned by doctors of IMA.
That being the case, is it wise to continue scheduling sports events in Delhi during winter? Will we have to wait for a disaster, like in Beijing, to strike before Delhi is taken off the sporting map of India?
It is a fact that sport requires clean air and environment, especially as these are the minimum requirement for a healthy mind and body. It is just as obvious that Delhi cannot provide these basic necessities to make playing and watching sport an enjoyable one. In that case why have sport at all in so polluted an environment?
The half-marathon run was awful according to many participants, including the winner. They were forced to take many precautionary measures, like wearing masks that could filter pollutants. But many competitors said that it also restricted breathing. Thus survival rather than posting record timings became the name of the game.
Likewise, Ranji Trophy teams were conscious of the fact that they had to preserve their best players for stiffer battles in other non-polluted cities. So they just did not want to exert themselves in Delhi’s polluted atmosphere. The matches were postponed even though BCCI was livid at the decision.
Thus, while Sri Lanka might have utilised the smog as an opportunity to neutralise Viat Kohli and India, Indian sports federations must utilise this event as a wake-up call to avoid sporting encounters in Delhi. That is until the government gets serious and does something to clean up the mess.
Certainly, as far as sport is concerned, ‘Delhi Chalo!’ is a strict no-no.