The sport has a bond with the land that few other field sports do and Thursday’s game at Lord’s can put the environment centre stage
— In September 2017 Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, stood up in front of the UN general assembly. “Eden is broken,” he said.
Skerrit had travelled to New York from his devastated island nation, battered to bare-root nakedness by Hurricane Maria, which spat out homes and lives, leaving behind flooding, landslides and a crumpled infrastructure. The category five storm splintered the island’s ancient forests, a Unesco world heritage site, ripping away the lush canopy to reveal a broken, brown reality.
The storm also razed the island’s Windsor Park cricket stadium – and on Thursday a Rest of the World team take on the West Indies at Lord’s to raise money for its restoration, and that of James Ronald Webster Park in Anguilla, ruined by hurricane Irma just two weeks earlier.
The game is a shining example of cricket acting for the common good. It will raise much-needed funds and the tickets, which are £10 for children, are reasonable. The game is being held during the half-term holiday and will be shown on Sky. It brings together players from around the globe including Rashid Khan, Shahid Afridi, Thisara Perera, Dinesh Karthik, and Mitchell McClenaghan under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan for the Rest of the World.
But there is something missing. There has been no discussion of the reasons why the weather seems to be changing, what might be done to prevent it or why the hurricane season of 2017 was both so unprecedented and so brutal.
No one weather event can be categorically labelled as “caused by climate change”. But scientists are confident that climate change is bringing more extreme weather events, and that it increases the severity of hurricanes, like Irma and Maria, as greenhouse gases trap energy in the atmosphere driving more powerful winds. Rising temperatures have led to higher sea levels, which in turn means bigger storm surges. Higher water temperatures lead to more evaporation of water into the air, and that means more rain and therefore a higher risk of flooding.
Skerrit is in no doubt what is to blame for his island’s repeated battering. In April he spoke of the country’s plans to become the world’s first climate resilient nation. But, he asked, what of the rest of the planet?
“In the current system, those who reap the financial benefits from the emissions of greenhouse gasses are not those who carry the costs. As a result, there is an underinvestment in limiting climate change, mitigating its costs and reducing climate-related damage. That is no longer a viable situation. The time for talk, conventions and declarations is over. The time for action is now,” said Skerrit.
So what does cricket do? There is for the game both a responsibility and an opportunity in tackling climate change. Cricket, and its followers, have an emotional and physical bond with the land in a way that few other field sports do. From the dust bowls of Ahmedabad to the lush pastures of the Somerset levels, cricket is its environment. It affects the batting conditions, the way the ball moves, the choice of players on the field, the way the game is played.
A roll-call of incidents from the the last few years suggest the scale of future challenges the game will have to face, and the risks of doing nothing. Last October Irma and Maria hit the Caribbean; this February the Western Province Cricket Association cancelled all club and school cricket because of severe drought in Cape Town and the surrounding areas.
In 2016, 13 IPL games were moved from Maharashtra as parts of the state endured their worst drought for 100 years, and the control of water became a legal issue this April when the Mumbai high court forbade the Maharashtra Cricket Association from receiving water from the Pavana dam for its matches in Pune.
Last December, air pollution in Delhi during the India v Sri Lanka Test resulted in players vomiting on the pitch and wearing face masks. Play was repeatedly held up and oxygen cylinders were brought into the dressing rooms. In England, 10 county grounds sit in cities where pollution levels exceed WHO recommendations. In the last month, a heatwave in Karachi has killed at least 65 people. And earlier this year, a report by the Climate Coalition named cricket as the game in the UK most likely to be affected by climate change.
“There is clear evidence that climate change has had a huge impact on the game,” said Dan Musson, the ECB’s national participation manager, “in the form of general wet weather and extreme weather events.”
Glamorgan, the sole Welsh voice in county cricket, have lost 1,300 overs of cricket since 2000 because of the weather. Their head of operations, Dan Cherry, is frank.
“Losing so much cricket is a county’s worst nightmare – it affects the club at every level,” he has said. “It’s difficult even for first-class counties to be commercially viable with such an impact.”
Steve Birks, the Trent Bridge groundsman, told the Cricket Paper only this month: “The rain is getting tropical, it is getting heavier. We’re getting thunderstorms more often when it rains – I think that’s when you can tell the difference.”
Cricket must adapt to what the World Bank calls “the new climate normal” but it must also become part of the solution. On the day of the IPL final, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) signed an agreement to promote green cricket, “greening operations and engaging cricketers and fans in green initiatives”. The following months will give us an idea of how much the BCCI really cares, and how much is greenwash.
Becoming a world leader, a shining example of good environmental practice would attract to cricket the much-desired growth audience – as well as being the right thing to do. Young people, in particular, care about the future of the planet in a way they might not care about, say, 100-ball cricket. Increasingly sponsors too are likely to look at environmental performance when calculating where to put their money.
So many things could be done quite easily – large and small – from carbon audits to sensible tour planning to reduce the number of flights, from encouraging spectators to travel to matches in sustainable ways to curbing single-use plastic use. Some grounds, Lord’s and the Oval particularly, but also Edgbaston and Cardiff, are acting unilaterally, but cricket, and sport in general, is crying out for environmental leadership – how fabulous it would be if Thursday’s match banged heads together. With 2.5bn fans worldwide, cricket has the potential to influence human behaviour in profound ways.
by Tanya Aldred | The Guardian