Into the Death Overs: How Climate Will Change Cricket

Sreerag Marar
Associate, GameChanger Law Advisors

Wilfred Synrem 
Associate, GameChanger Law Advisors

 

Background

Climate change has had a significant impact on various aspects of human life and sport is no different. A report published by the Rapid Transition Alliance, warns that within the next three decades English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season, British Open golf will be damaged by rising sea levels, and half of the previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable hosts off winter sports. It also highlights that, in particular, cricket will be hardest hit by the effects of climate change. Other reports, including one published by the British Association for Sustainable Sport, have similarly sounded the alarm on the potential effects of changing climate on cricket.

While unfortunate, the considerable effects of climate change on cricket were only to be expected. Cricket is a sport that is influence by various natural factors, such as sunlight, temperature, rainfall, soil, and soil conditions. For instance, sunny and dry conditions generally favour batting, while overcast, humid conditions would cause the ball to swing more, therefore helping bowlers. Similarly. soil conditions impact the nature of the pitch, which, in turn, plays a key role in influencing the possible outcome of a game of cricket. One would note, for instance, that while the dry and dusty pitches in the Indian subcontinent do not offer much help to the fast bowlers, they are conducive to spin bowling. Any changes to these natural factors due to climate change, therefore, are likely to have an impact on the manner in which the game of cricket is played.

Through this piece, we seek to explore this impact in greater detail, the response of cricketing bodies to the impact, and provide solutions, both short term and long term, that may be implemented to tackle the situation. In Part I of this piece, we look at how climate change has affected the game in the India and across the world. Further, in Part II, we analyse the initiatives taken by all the stakeholders of the game to mitigate and combat the effects of the climate change. Lastly, in Part III, we have sought to suggest some immediate action items for the cricketing community in order to proactively reduce the contribution of the game to climate change and also to combat the effects of the same.

 

Part I

In the Block Hole– Effects of Climate Change in Cricket

The effects of climate change have pervaded across all aspects of the game of cricket, including on the infrastructure, the players, and the spectators. In this part, we will be setting out events where the real-world effects of climate change have been felt by infrastructure, players, management and spectators.

 

India

Time and again we have been seeing the effects of climate change on cricket in India. In 2017, one of the most worrisome pictures surfaced from a match between India and Sri Lanka at Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi. The picture showed the horrifying reality of the air quality in the national capital which forced players to wear masks and bowlers finding it difficult to breathe properly. There were also incidents reported of players vomiting because of the toxic air.

The air quality in the national capital has been a topic of extreme distress for climate experts and activists in the country and around the world. The national capital is one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, the pollution which is predominantly caused due to toxic air particles such as PM2.5 and PM10 and other greenhouse gases, when released into the atmosphere traps the heat inside the earth leading to global warming. During winters, when the air is much denser and moves slowly, increased amount of such particles and greenhouses gases get trapped leading to poor air quality. Especially with every passing year, the winters in the national capital is getting worse. For instance, January is one of the coldest months in the national capital, however, things look better around the middle of the month. However, in 2022, the maximum temperature in the national capital was about 7.3 degree Celsius colder than the normal temperature. This is a testament to the fact that there is a gradual shift towards extreme weather conditions in all seasons. This increasing cold coupled with the release of toxic air particles from vehicles, increased urbanization, bursting of crackers during Diwali, and the stubble burning by farmers of the neighbouring states has led to the air quality between October to March deteriorating with every passing year. This should raise the valid question of dangers of hosting sporting events in the national capital, especially during this period. The Board of Cricket Control for India (“BCCI”) has to now factor in the conditions in the national capital while scheduling matches between October to March because of the pollution triggered smog that is endangering the lives of the players and the spectators.

Unlike many other sports, cricket cannot be played during the rain. Thus, matches are usually scheduled in a manner that they do not coincide with monsoon. While monsoons in India typically last from June to September, in 2019, India saw one of the most unusual monsoon seasons in recent decades. Monsoon arrived and receded late and then caused India to receive its highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. This severely affected the international schedules and also the domestic One-Day tournament, the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

We now also frequently see matches being cancelled because of cyclonic storms in the Arabian Sea. While cyclones in the Arabian Sea were not a common phenomenon earlier, there has been a 52% increase in the frequency of cyclones over the Arabian Sea between 2001 and 2019and a 150% increase in very severe cyclones in the Arabian Sea during this period. Experts attribute this to a 1.20 – 1.40 degree Celsius increase in the surface temperature of the Arabian Sea in the last four decades due to global warming.

Even the Indian Premier League (“IPL”) has not been spared of the effects of climate change. In 2016, 13 cricket matches due to be played in the state of Maharashtra were relocated because of severe droughts in the state.

 

Other Countries

Given that climate change is a global phenomenon, its effects are being seen not just in India, but the world over. For instance, we have seen cricket matches in Australia being disrupted by the scorching heat caused by the Australian bushfires, which made it difficult for players to breathe and even see the ball due to the thick smoke. Experts assert that unprecedented fire conditions, such as those caused in New South Wales and Queensland in 2019, have been aggravated by climate change. This is because bushfire risk is exacerbated by drought, dry fuels and soils, and increased heat levels.

As per the Rapid Transition Alliance report, cricket in Australia has already been affected by rising temperature. Notably, for instance, the England Men’s Cricket Team captain, Joe Root, was hospitalized at the end of a long hot day in Sydney, Australia. Root batted for three hours on the fourth day and had been in the field for all but six overs of the hottest day record for a Test match in Australia. Temperature in some parts of Sydney reached 47.3 degree Celsius, the highest in the city for 79 years. The report of the Rapid Transition Alliance also claims that Melbourne will likely experience a heat spell of 35 degree Celsius and above over an average of 26 days, with high summer maximums of 50 degree Celsius. Other Australian cities like Adelaide and Perth will see a 60% increase in 40 degrees Celsius plus days by 2030. This has also led to these cities being asked to shift the boxing day test to November/March.

The UK’s seven wettest years on record have occurred since the beginning of this century. The England and Wales Cricket Board (“ECB”) spent £1.6 million on emergency grants in 2017 to help clubs restore facilities and had set aside a further £2.5million for small grants to help clubs be more equipped to deal with poor weather. Similarly in the storms of December 2015, the country saw more than £3.5million worth of damage across 57 cricket clubs and in terms of games postponed and cancelled, both in the recreational and professional game. As per the UK Met Department, there is only going to be an increase in the extreme weather conditions going further and these are directly linked to climate change.

In recent times, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed a new challenge to the sport with players having to travel and stay in bubbles. While the pandemic cannot be directly attributed to climate change, it is interesting to note that various studies suggest that zoonotic diseases, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, are going to be an even more common phenomenon because of global warming and the eventual effects of climate change.

While rescheduling of matches is always an option, it is difficult for the governing bodies, players, and ground staff to cope with such rescheduling into an already shrinking window of play in a year. Interim measures could be helpful for combating situations such as Covid-19, however, as we shall discuss in the next section of this piece, the measures to combat the effects of climate change would require a global effort from all the cricket playing nations, all the stakeholders, the players and the spectators in collaboration with the International Cricket Council (“ICC”) and other international organisations.

 

Part-II

DRS- Initiatives to combat the effects of climate change in cricket

We have seen various examples of initiatives taken up by different level of stakeholders in the sport, including stakeholders such as cricket clubs, cricketers, cricket stadiums, and cricket boards. These initiatives seek to combat not only the source of climate change, but also mitigate the effects of climate change.

 

Cricket Clubs

Cricket clubs in England, such as the Glamorgan Cricket Club and the Marylebone Cricket Club, have pioneered the fight against climate change.. The Glamorgan Cricket Club, similar to other cricketing teams, has, in the past, faced the problem of matches being washed away on account of heavy rain. With the intent of improving environmental conditions, the club has begun undertaking various measures, including, (i) water and waste management, (ii) limiting the consumption of gas and electricity within the club, (iii) assessing the sustainability of suppliers and caterers to the club and (iv) limiting emissions during away day travel within the season. As a result, since the year 2013, the Glamorgan Cricket Club has managed to achieve an approximate 10-15% reduction in emissions and reduced an approximate one-hundred and thirty-seven tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The Marylebone Cricket Club, on the other hand, has taken initiatives such as the usage of renewable energy (solar and wind energy) towards energy consumption in the stadium, usage of low-energy rating equipments or appliances, limited use of plastic and disposables, comprehensive recycling systems, setting up waste segregation and management systems, and delivery of unused food to nearby localities or charities.

 

Cricketers

At an individual level, Australian Cricketers such as Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, David Warner, Alyssa Healy, Mitch Starc, and Shane Watson signed up for an initiative known as the ‘Cricket for Climate’ initiative. Through this framework, these cricketers have been supporting local and grade cricket clubs, such as the Sydney Cricket Club, with the free installation of solar systems, panels and inverters on their respective rooftops.

 

Cricket Stadium: Sustainability initiatives undertaken by the Lord’s Cricket Ground

The Lord’s Cricket Ground in England is also playing leading role in the fight for sustainability in sport. In its response to the dangers of climate change, Lord’s has taken efforts to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon footprint by about 80%. It had switched its power consumption to 100% renewable electricity back in 2016, and then followed that up with a complete switch to wind power in the next year.

Further, Lord’s also has significantly cut down on plastic consumption by switching to reusable cups, providing paper straws to fans instead of plastic ones, implementing the usage of aluminium cans, and replacing plastic bags with paper bags. Beyond this, Lord’s has worked with food redistribution charities to offer unused edible food to local communities, and then, separately, convert remainder waste food into bio-gas for the generation of electricity.

 

Initiatives by BCCI and Indian Cricket?

Back home, very little can be said about the initiatives taken by the BCCI, one of the most powerful cricketing boards in the world. Only once in 2018, BCCI signed a partnership with UN Environment to promote green cricket in India, sensitize waste generation amongst fans, and phase out single use plastic from stadiums. There is however, no data available on the implementation of the partnership.

IPL franchisee teams, like the Royal Challengers Bengaluru (“RCB”), are fortunately taking stern steps towards the mitigation of climate change in India. For example, RCB’s stadium, the M. Chinnaswamy stadium, is completely powered by solar energy and its vacuum powered drainage system helps matches remain uninterrupted during rain. RCB has also initiated important campaigns and local collaborations, such as the collaboration with Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport and Co. (BMTC) that carpooled solutions for fans commuting to the stadium, and the ‘Greenaissance’ campaign that helped retain greenery within the Bengaluru community.

 

Part-III

Strategic Time Out: The way forward

While cricket clubs, cricketers, stadiums and a few cricketing boards have attempted to combat against climate change, at an individual level, there is a need for consolidating global efforts. We set out below, on the basis of our analysis, certain urgent action items that could help mitigate the effects of climate change and also decrease the contribution of the sport to climate change.

 

UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework & A Role for ICC?

From a global and common perspective on the fight against the climate change, member nations have signed up for a climate change implementation framework under a treaty known as the ‘Paris Agreement’ in 2015. As an initiative under the Paris Agreement, the UN has encouraged sports organizations and their stakeholders to join a new climate action for sport movement, namely, the ‘UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework’.

This framework recommends that sporting bodies adhere with five principles. First, the need to undertake systematic efforts to improve and promote greater environmental responsibility. Second, to reduce overall climate impact. Third, to educate sporting bodies and clubs on the subject of climate action. Fourth, to promote sustainable and responsible consumption of non-renewable/renewable and necessary resources. And fifth, to advocate for climate action through communication.

As of date, the signatories of the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework, include only three cricket clubs, namely, Gloucestershire Cricket, Melbourne Cricket Club, and Youlden Parkville Cricket Club. Given the size of ICC, the BCCI, the England & Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia, it would be a significant show of intent, if these powerful stakeholders were to become signatories to the said framework.

In addition to the above, we propose that the ICC set up a Global Climate Change Combatting Committee, which would have representatives from all the member and non-member nations of the ICC. Such a committee with the help of richer cricketing boards (like the BCCI, ECB and Cricket Australia), may draw up and implement policies (say, a Climate Action Sports Policy) to combat climate change via infrastructural or operational means, including utilizing more renewable sources of energy within cricket stadiums, rationalizing renewable resources for the maintenance of pitch and the ground, maintaining heat protocols for player/spectator welfare and safety amidst scorching temperatures due to climate change, budgeting financial resources on a yearly basis towards climate change initiatives, making collective decisions on tournaments or activities in the sport that may have a nexus with a cause or effect of climate change and coordinating all such decisions with the ICC for an effective execution of the same.

For this purpose, we believe that all cricketing boards should set aside a certain percentage of their annual reported revenue pledging such amounts to the cause of combatting climate change. While it is difficult to ascertain as to how much percentage of the revenues should be set aside, the same should be directly proportional to the revenues created by such boards. Thus, having the richer boards contribute more than other boards.

The committee could also be responsible for (a) annually reviewing the progress of every cricketing nation’s commitment towards the guidelines set-up by the committee, (b) the development of mechanisms to hold cricketing bodies accountable for non-performance of their obligations, (c) ensuring that all ICC members are a part of the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework and adhere fully to all the 5 principles enshrined therein, and (d) ensuring accountability and levying penalties/grave consequences in case of any violation of the suggested Climate Action Sports Policy and other such policies.

In addition, the committee should ensure that each member of the ICC formulates an internal climate action committee that can give effect to the mandates of the Global Climate Change Combatting Committee, over domestic tournaments and franchise cricket.

Player welfare: A legislative need to combat effects of climate change

As discussed in the previous section, climate change can massively impact cricketers on the field, while playing the sport. Thus, it is necessary to address player safety and welfare norms within the sport. To this, Cricket Australia (“CA”) has taken steps in protecting its cricketers by rolling a ‘Heat Policy’ in 2019.

The Heat Policy, is a best practices policy upon players, player support personnel, and match officials involved in any CA sanctioned competitions, including training and other competitions. With the objective of preventing and managing health related issues on the field, the policy enforces certain heat stress protocols and training session protocols, where a Heat Stress Risk Index (“HSRI”) along with certain denominators, determines the viability of playing a match or carrying out a training session. For example, in case of an HSRI reading between 8 and 10, extra drinks breaks (hydration) and cooling periods may be afforded to players and match officials. Where the HSRI reading breaks beyond the 10-denominator, the match referee may in consultation with CA Head of Operations or CA Match Officials Manager, may choose to suspend the match.

The BCCI and other cricketing boards in the world, should be encouraged into creating similar player welfare policies, where extreme temperatures do not impact player health at the cost of a cricket match. Such policies may also account for measures such as more hydration breaks, increasing the number of players in the squad, and provision for replacement of players on account of dehydration and other effects of pollution etc.

Other Recommendations to help combat climate change and its effects

In addition to the above recommendations, climate change in cricket may be also combated through the following ways and modes:

  • Infrastructure 

    (i) Cricket boards must ensure to enforce a zero-plastic policy at stadiums and training grounds and also establish guidelines for appropriate spectator behaviour with hefty penalties for littering and wastage of resources.(ii) Ground staff and linesmen are required to be trained to efficiently use sustainable technology in their maintenance and ensure minimal wastage of water and other resources takes place at their level.

    (iii) Cricket boards must promote a shift towards the use of renewable sources of energy, such as solar energy or wind energy, in the powering of stadiums/pitches.

    (iv)Cricket boards should also consider joining forces with local government agencies and authorities to provide concession travel tickets, in case of domestic and international tournaments, where spectators could be incentivized to use common transport facilities rather than private vehicles for commuting to games.

  • Teams and Management 

    (i) National cricket teams and franchise cricket teams can use a certain ratio of its resources to contribute positively towards creating awareness within the public regarding climate change. Especially, in countries like India, where Cricket is almost considered a religion, cricket teams can really build the requisite awareness, and educate fans on the dangers and effects of climate change. While RCB in its recent IPL season had donned a green jersey for a matchday to support a go-green initiative, this still cuts short of what the public needs from such teams or even individual players to holistically build awareness around climate change.(ii) With the increase in the number of domestic, franchise and international games, many teams such as India face an intense schedule. These intense schedules coupled with the effects of the climate change are going to be dangerous for the health of the players. Considering the same, the national teams should consider increasing the squad size and rotate players in order to provide enough rest to player.

    (iii) The BCCI has recently announced the concept of an ‘Impact Substitute’ for the upcoming Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, while the aim currently is to make the game more strategic and tactical, such an initiative in the context of ODIs and Test matches would really help the players cope with extreme weathers and situations where a player is unable to continue the concept of Impact Substitutes can be helpful.

    (iv) The clothing is the second most polluting industry in the world, accounting for 20% of the industrial wastewater production and 10% of global carbon emissions. While sportswear only accounts for tiny portion of this global industry, it is a sector heavily reliant upon highly polluting synthetic fibres, as consumer expectations of performance clothing demand fabric to be stretchy, breathable and sweat resistant. About a minimum of 96 items of clothing (assuming everyone on the ground is wearing a minimum of t-shirt, trousers and socks) are used every match for the players and umpires on the field. Thus, all cricketing bodies along with ICC should make an attempt to shift from virgin polyester to natural fibres such as bamboo or Tencel.

    (v)We also see a change in jerseys from one series to the other. This is because of the change in the sponsors. This gives rise to unnecessary production of jerseys leading to fans trying to get their hand on every new jersey in the market which in turn leads to a significant overall increase in the number of jerseys produced. Rather, a system such as that in the football, where there is a jersey fixed for a season both for home and away matches should be adopted and the production of new jerseys for every series should be completely be done away with.

 

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