Smog plays havoc with sports bonanza in Delhi

At a time when schoolchildren are being told to only play indoors, Delhi is staging a Test match between India and South Africa and also hosted a crunch tie on Thursday night in football's Indian Super League (ISL).

A participant wearing a pollution mask at the Delhi Half Marathon in November.   -  AP

It's the prime stretch of New Delhi's sporting calendar but a blanket of smog is playing havoc with everything from Test cricket to India's national shooting event in the world's most polluted capital.

At a time when schoolchildren are being told to only play indoors, Delhi is staging a Test match between India and South Africa and also hosted a crunch tie on Thursday night in football's Indian Super League (ISL).

For spectators and even cameramen, the matches have turned at times into a spot the ball contest while experts warn the standard of competition on the field suffers as a result.

“It's terrible out here,” a TV cameraman, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP at the cricket.

“It's a struggle to fix the lights on our cameras because the light is really bad, thanks to the smog, especially in the mornings. Sometimes we can't even see the other side of the ground.

“It makes our job very difficult. Also, it's not pleasant to be breathing in all this toxic air.”

“Very unhealthy”

A reading Friday on the US embassy website showed the concentration of PM 2.5, harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep in the lungs, at a “very unhealthy” level and said “prolonged or heavy exertion” should be avoided.

That's not possible for cricketers or footballers such as former Liverpool full-back John Arne Riise who played for the Delhi Dynamos in Thursday's ISL showdown against the Kerala Blasters.

Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla cricket ground lies on the edge of the old city, one of the most polluted areas in the capital.

Batting great Sunil Gavaskar, now a television commentator, acknowledged pollution was a concern.

“Fast bowlers find it hard to bowl long spells in the morning when the smog is there,” he said. “Batsmen also do not take many three runs because they get out of breath. Then as the sun comes out it becomes easier.

“Since it is a universal concern, the ICC (International Cricket Council) will have to take into account the wellbeing of players and umpires. I hope they will be looking into it sooner than later.”

Some of the world's top tennis players, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, are due in Delhi next week to take part in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL).

They at least can rest easy that the matches will be held indoors.