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World cup 2023: India’s New Dehli pollution put players health at risk

'We don't want to get sick. We don't know if things will improve,' says Bangladesh team director
An aerial view shows residential buildings and a stadium shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, October 27, 2023. Photo Reuters
An aerial view shows residential buildings and a stadium shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, October 27, 2023. Photo Reuters

Air pollution in Dehli is likely to put the World Cup 2023 clash between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at risk, as the lowest quality of air can be dangerous for the welfare of players.

Sri Lanka cancelled Saturday’s training session in India’s capital with a pall of toxic smog engulfing the megacity just days before it hosts their clash against Bangladesh.

New Delhi is regularly ranked as one of the most polluted cities on the planet, with its annual smog problem blamed for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.

On Saturday, it again ranked the city with the most polluted air on the planet, according to monitoring firm IQAir.

An official at the local cricket association in Delhi confirmed to AFP that Sri Lanka had not staged their scheduled practice session.

“They haven’t shared any reason for cancelling their training,” the official told AFP.

But the cancellation comes a day after Bangladesh also called off their own training in Delhi, citing health risks from the smog.

“Some of us developed coughing, so there’s a risk factor,” Bangladesh team director Khaled Mahmud said Friday.

“We don’t want to get sick. We don’t know if things will improve,” he added.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) said it was monitoring Delhi’s air quality and took seriously “the wellbeing of all participants” ahead of Monday’s match.

“We are taking expert advice to assess the situation,” their statement said.

World Cup organisers this week banned fireworks at matches in Mumbai and Delhi to avoid worsening air pollution levels in both cities.

Levels of the most dangerous airborne PM2.5 particles – so tiny they can enter the bloodstream – were on Saturday evening more than 20 times the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization, according to IQAir.

Severe smog levels are expected to persist beyond Monday’s match for several more weeks, with authorities ordering school closures on Friday.

Smoke from farmers burning crop stubble, vehicle exhaust and factory emissions combine every winter to blanket Delhi in a choking haze, a public health crisis that has persisted for decades.

A Lancet study in 2020 attributed 1.67 million deaths to air pollution in India during the previous year, including almost 17,500 in the capital.

And the average city resident could die nearly 12 years earlier than expected due to air pollution, according to an August report by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

India is heavily reliant on polluting coal for energy generation, resisting calls to phase it out, and its per capita coal emissions have risen 29 percent in the past seven years.

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