Last week, as New Delhi choked under a thick layer of smog, a frantic government urged all the city’s residents to remain indoors unless they absolutely had to. Pollution levels soared to more than a hundred times the recommended limits and social media was filled with pictures and videos of buildings and vehicles barely visible under the hazy veil. It was in this dystopian setting that the Board of Control for Cricket in India cho-se to hold a T20 match between the hosts and Bangladesh.
There was never a thought to call off the match despite the Air Quality Index at the stadium being tagged ‘severe’ and a public health emergency being in force throughout the city. Never mind that it was a health risk to just venture outside, the BCCI wanted players to exert themselves physically in the smog and tens of thousands of people to come watch them do so. Somehow, the money that was involved made it okay that the health of everyone involved was at risk.
It’s not like the board did not know what was going to happen—they’ve been here before. In 2017, India and Sri Lanka met in a Test match at the Feroz Shah Kotla under similar conditions. The whole world watched in puzzlement and anxiety as players took to the field in respiratory masks. A bunch of Sri Lankan players complained of breathing problems and a few even vomited in the dressing room.
Evidently, no lessons had been learnt from that debacle. Newly elected BCCI president Sourav Ganguly may argue that it was impossible to reschedule the match at the eleventh hour, ostensibly because of sponsorship and telecast commitments.
But the BCCI has a much larger responsibility to the fans and the players whom it’s supposed to protect. Of course, one would hope that there is no next time and that the board would bring common sense into the equation while scheduling matches in the future. But if there is a next time, one also hopes that the correct, ethical decision would be taken instead of recklessly endangering the health of thousands of people.