Air pollution a threat to sport

Saturday, December 09, 2017

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Cricket lovers watching the recent drawn third and final cricket Test between hosts India and Sri Lanka witnessed an extraordinary sight — that of fielders wearing face masks because of poor air quality.

It got so bad that on the second day the umpires had to stop play for periods accumulating to 22 minutes after players fell ill. In at least three cases, bowlers actually vomited on the field.

The episode in the Indian capital, Delhi, has attracted close attention from cricket's governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), which now wants air quality and its consequences to be considered by its medical committee. It is also likely to be discussed at ICC meetings in February.

It's possible that just as rain and poor light routinely stop cricket, air quality will have to be considered by umpires in the not too distant future. Currently, electronic meters are used to measure light during international and other high-level cricket. There are suggestions that soon comparable equipment may be used to measure air quality on cricket fields.

The problem is not confined to cricket. In mid-November, air pollution in Delhi was so poor that some of the 34,000 runners in the city's annual half marathon wore face masks.

Nor is air pollution in sport confined to Delhi or the wider north India. Track and field followers will recall that the Beijing Olympics of 2008, in which Mr Usain Bolt grabbed the imagination of the world, is also remembered for air pollution.

Indeed, media reports say studies show that those Games were the most polluted ever in terms of air quality. Levels of smog and soot were said to be so high at times that sunlight was blotted out. Thankfully, afternoon showers throughout the period of the Olympics in China cleaned up the air enough so that most athletes felt little or no ill effects.

Polluted air is no joke for those involved in sport and other strenuous activity. Experts say air pollution can trigger life-threatening ailments such as lung and heart disease, just as is the case with tobacco smoking.

Further, Jamaicans shouldn't feel that by virtue of distance they are divorced from all of the above. In fact, in October, in this space, this newspaper pointed to the dangers posed by rapidly increasing air pollution levels in sections of the country — not least Kingston and St Catherine, where population centres and industrial activity are most intense.

Indeed, people in that part of the country have first-hand knowledge of the discomfort caused by air pollution as a result of repeated fires at the Riverton dump.

Jamaica's political and business leaders speak eloquently, justifiably, and often of the need for industrial and economic growth. The clear message from India, China and elsewhere for those in the local sports fraternity is that they, like everyone else, have vested interest in being watchdogs — seeking to ensure that economic progress for Jamaica and its people does not come at the expense of air quality and a healthy environment.

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