ISL: Players wear masks during training

A day before a match to be held in New Delhi on Wednesday - Delhi Dynamos takes on Jamshedpur FC - a couple of players from the home side were seen wearing masks while training.

Matches should not have been been held in New Delhi at this time of the year, says Steve Coppell.   -  Special Arrangement

Air pollution in New Delhi is a cause of concern not only for Sri Lankan cricketers but also for footballers competing in the Indian Super League. A day before a match to be held here on Wednesday - Delhi Dynamos takes on Jamshedpur FC - a couple of players from the home side were seen wearing masks while training.

Preview: Misfiring Delhi takes on Jamshedpur

Dynamos coach Miguel Angel Portugal confirmed that his players wore masks but said they will not use them during the match on Wednesday. “This pollution is a problem but it’s not solely for the players and me. It’s for the people of Delhi. We have been training with masks, so it is fine. The players will not be donning the masks on match day [on Wednesday],” Portugal said at the pre-match press conference.

“It is a home and away league and it (tomorrow) is our home match. So there is no question of not playing, we have to play here,” he added.

Read: Shami throws up due to Delhi pollution

Jamshedpur FC coach Steve Coppell said football matches should not have been held in Delhi during this time of the year though he stopped short of declaring it was unsafe for players.

“Around Diwali last year I came to Delhi with the Kerala Blasters team. When we played last year, at that time the measure (level) of particulate matters was over 500. I think it’s 300 today,” Coppell, who was the head coach of runners-up side Kerala Blasters in the last edition, said.

‘Common sense should have prevailed’

“For the last three years I have been in Delhi at this time and there has been the exactly same commentary about doing something but nothing has happened. Last year I said that matches should not be scheduled in Delhi around this particular time of the year. Common sense should have prevailed.”

Read: 'There is pollution but we should do our duty'

Understandably, Coppell, a former Manchester United player and Manchester City coach, said he would have loved to play in better conditions. “It’s not for sportsmen to say, it is a decision the health officials will have to make. If you ask me if I want to play in these conditions I would say I don’t think so.”

‘Difficult’ for footballers

Asked specifically if it’s safe for the players, he said, “I don’t know. I would have loved to play somewhere else in better conditions. No, it is very difficult to play football with masks. I appreciate cricket players can play by wearing masks but it is very difficult for footballers. It shows the contrast between the two games. Football is a very intense game,” he said.

Read: Lakmal vomits in smog-choked Delhi Test

Delhi’s viability as an international sports venue has been called into question after the Sri Lankan team’s grievance came close on the heels of the furore that preceded last month’s Delhi Half Marathon and an appeal by the Indian Medical Association to cancel the event. The marathon took place despite high pollution levels.

The second day’s play in the ongoing Test was halted for 26 minutes after Sri Lankans complained of breathing problems. It forced the Indian captain Virat Kohli to declare the innings at 536 for 7. The Indian team, however, has not made a big deal about it with pacer Mohammed Shami casually stating that the team is “used to suffering.”

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