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Climate Change Is A Bouncer, But Should We Duck?

The climate crisis is today affecting everyone from elite players, sports broadcasters, and insurance companies to millions of sports fans across different climate-sensitive places in the world. These disturbances should be deemed as alarm bells.

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Unpredictable weather is impacting our lives in many ways but the most shocking for us is when it impinges on our favourite sport, cricket in particular. In September, a one-day international (ODI) match in Karachi had to be rescheduled due to heavy unseasonal rain that left the outfield soggy and unplayable.  In the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup 2019, eight matches ended as ‘no result’ or ‘match abandoned’ due to unexpected rains or no-play conditions. In 2018, there were match cancellations in South Africa and several adjournments of Indian Premier League (IPL) games in India. Test matches have been suspended recently in the Caribbean due to hurricanes. Over the past few years, such disruptions in match schedules have been increasing at a disturbing rate. These are not projections, but real impacts with serious physical, logistical and financial repercussions.  

The human impact of climate change is significant, with concerns about the well-being and resilience of the sportspersons to conditions like heat fatigue. As the number and intensity of hot days increase and water become scarce, the hardness of playing surfaces adds to the physical stress of the players. The pitch and the ground require watering on a regular basis to maintain moisture – extremely hot days draw moisture from the ground and the pitch and make them harder. Water scarcity makes it further difficult to maintain adequate moisture on the grounds. Hard ground means the players exert more energy while playing and are also more susceptible to injuries. 

Last year, the English cricket player Joe Root was hospitalized after suffering severe dehydration while playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the five-day Ashes Test series. The temperature at the cricket ground peaked above 40°C that day. High temperatures and other weather anomalies also expose spectators – who purchase expensive stadium tickets to watch live matches – to the unexpected stress, possible health impacts and other inconveniences of an extreme event. Audience presence is dwindling and with it the spectator interest in the game.

The financial setbacks of such events are also enormous. According to reports, Star India, which held global media rights for the World Cup 2019, is estimated to have lost at least £1 million (US$1.26 million) for each of the abandoned matches. In Game Changer – How climate change is impacting sports in the UK by The Climate Coalition and Priestley International Centre for Climate, it was estimated that England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) spent £1 million in emergency grants in 2016 and £1.6 million in 2017 to restore facilities when storms Desmond and Eva affected more than 50 community clubs. 

The climate crisis is today affecting everyone from elite players, sports broadcasters, and insurance companies to millions of sports fans across different climate-sensitive places in the world. These disturbances should be deemed as alarm bells.

Leading by example: Can the cricket governing authorities help? Can they shift to sustainable practices? To this end, the Glamorgan County Cricket Club in Cardiff is setting an example with its full-fledged sustainability program. This club has been severely affected by extreme weather in the recent past leading to considerable financial implications. 

A few years ago, the club began rethinking its operation strategies across all domains – from electricity, gas use, water and waste management to ‘away day’ travel. Simple measures like reducing use of electricity and gas by 10-15 percent and the implementation of new appliances and fittings for staff training, resulted in the reduction of 137 tonne of CO2 in the first two years of its sustainability program. The club has also implemented climate-friendly measures for the iconic Lord’s Stadium, London, like introducing renewable energy and electric-run machinery, investing in equipment with low-energy ratings, and using motion-sensor technology in common areas like bathrooms, corridors and kitchens. 

In India, the IPL teams like the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have taken several steps since 2010. Today, RCB’s home ground, Chinnaswamy Stadium is the first stadium in India to be completely solar powered. It is also equipped with a one-of-a-kind sewage treatment plant. The team has built a subsurface aeration and vacuum-powered drainage system called SubAir, which can be utilized for uninterrupted matches during heavy rains. 

KKR launched its green initiatives in 2017 and has been working with the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) to reduce the use of plastic and waste generation at their home ground, the Eden Gardens. It has launched a Plant a 6 campaign, which mandates the planting of one tree by the stadium for every six runs a player delivers.

Towards collective action: The cricket community is now recognizing the impacts of climate change as a major threat. But it is also time for cricket authorities to step up and align the game with the commitments made at the Paris Agreement on climate change. Hit for Six, a report released by the British Association of Sustainable Sport recently, attempts to guide cricket authorities towards sustainable practices and urges them to introduce ‘heat rules’ into the game. 

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, 2018, global sports organizations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) joined hands with the United Nations to fight climate change, subsequently forming Sports for Climate Action Framework. The framework aims at achieving a clear trajectory for the global sporting communities to combat climate change through commitments and partnerships, including measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV) greenhouse gases. Another objective of the framework is capacity-building, using sports as a unifying tool to drive climate awareness and actions among global citizens. 

More than 80 sports organizations are part of this framework, including organizing committees for the next three Olympic Games editions: Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and Paris 2024. The framework calls for immediate action towards systematic efforts to promote environmental responsibilities, promoting sustainable and responsible consumption, educating and advocating for climate action through effective communications. 

Cricket is at the mercy of, and extremely vulnerable to, the weather and climatic conditions. It is time for the cricket community to take a serious look at its practices, and incorporate climate action for the future of the game. As Keith C. Mitchell, the prime minister of Grenada, writes in his foreword to Hit for Six: “Climate change is real. It’s as simple as that. Every ball bowled at us is currently a bouncer. We’re ducking so much we’re struggling to build an innings that will ensure a safe, secure and sustainable future for our people.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
climate change cricket

Subrata Chakrabarty

The author is Manager, Climate Program, WRI India.

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