On November 3, as India slipped to a rare and first-ever T20 defeat against subcontinent rivals Bangladesh in a cricket match, they let down their fans on more than just the cricket ground. They had already done it when they took the field in conditions that had been universally declared to be 'unhealthy'
If ever a demonstration was needed about the ambivalent attitude of Indians towards the pollution crisis, and by extension, many other ecological disasters, then the India -Bangladesh match held in New Delhi on November 3 provided proof of the same.
On a day when the AQI level in the city peaked at 495 by the time the match began in the evening, it was shocking to see both spectators and players take to the field as if everything was normal. Some Bangladesh players, who had reportedly spoken about wearing masks to combat the severe pollution, finally refrained from doing so. For the record, an AQI between 0-50 is considered ‘good’, 51-100 ‘satisfactory’, 101-200 ‘moderate’, 201-300 ‘poor’, 301-400 ‘very poor’ and 401-500 ‘severe’. Above 500 falls in the ‘severe plus’ category.
Also for the record, in every developed country, and certainly in every country that claims to have a concern for its environment and citizen’s health, any reading above 150 is usually when the alarm bells go off. That India saw it fit to put out its national team for a game of cricket in the outdoors with a full house of over 20,000 spectators tells you all that is wrong with our approach and attitude to the air pollution engulfing the country now.
Perhaps it is the lack of bodies whose deaths can be blamed directly on the pollution or the fact that there is no disease called air pollution, but the stupid logic to go ahead with the match was breathtaking in itself. Reasons have been given forward for the decision.
From tickets being sold out in advance, to the difficulty of rescheduling cricket matches, to the money at stake for both the cricket boards. None of the reasons qualifies as good enough to put at risk the health of the thousands on the ground that day, and the miserable example they set for their fans outside, besides the young kids who idolise these cricketers.
That it is ok to play in conditions considered hazardous for humans in most parts of the world, with no promises of a better tomorrow. What has probably not been mentioned is the lack of an option for the Bangladesh team to say no, when faced with the might of the Indian cricket board, which accounts for close to 70 percent of global cricket revenues.
For politicians on the ground, caught as they were in a blame game, there was obviously no need to raise a call for cancellation and prevent their voters from getting an extended exposure to positively harmful air.
Cricket players on both sides, assuming they were nudged to play, need to wonder again about just where they are in their respective board’s priorities if a clear and present risk to them like pollution levels considered hazardous can be completely ignored.
Perhaps, playing an outdoor game where the natural elements like rain or bad light are frequently an adversary to be managed made them think pollution too could be managed too as long as they could see the ball. They couldn’t be more wrong, with this completely man-made disaster they just ended up supporting with their game.
For those talking of ‘saving face’, do you really think the world needed a cricket match to ignore the horrific readings of the capital’s pollution?
On the other hand, this was an opportunity like no other to make every citizen stop and think about just how big the threat from pollution was. And a signal to polluters, that with costs mounting on everyone, there would be very few places to hide soon.
Unfortunately, what we got was yet another example of misplaced resilience to cover up for uncountable lapses that have brought the city to this turn. To Bangladesh’s credit, they at least took away a first-ever T20 win against India from the encounter. For the young Indian team, there will be no learnings even in defeat if they continue to look the wrong way.
Predictably, not a single mention of the conditions of play was made by both the captains, Rohit Sharma for India, and Mahmadullah for Bangladesh. The game, clearly, has to go on.