New Delhi: The Indian Medical Association, the country's largest body of doctors, has asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to include air quality in the list of multiple criteria used to determine whether to hold cricket matches.
The IMA, in a letter sent to BCCI administrators, said the association was "greatly troubled" by the Test match between India and Sri Lanka in New Delhi played under conditions when concentrations of particulate matter in the air were over three times the safe limits.
On the second day of the Test last Sunday, extraordinary scenes unfolded with Sri Lanka's fielders wearing face masks to combat smog surrounding the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium.
Play was held up for over 20 minutes owing to pollution concerns as the umpires discussed the potential health hazards with both captains.
The Sri Lankan action drew criticism from sections of the BCCI. A PTI report had quoted BCCI acting president C.K. Khanna as saying: "If 20,000 people in the stands did not have a problem and the Indian team did not have any issue, I wonder why the Sri Lanka team made a big fuss."
Now, the IMA's national president, Krishan Kumar Aggarwal, and secretary-general R.N. Tandon have asked the BCCI to incorporate air quality into their list of criteria to determine play conditions, citing multiple studies highlighting the health risks of air pollution.
"Rain and poor light are taken into consideration when determining suitable playing conditions. We suggest that atmospheric pollution should now also be included in the assessing criteria for a match," the two doctors wrote in their letter sent on Wednesday.
They have also pointed out that besides health risks, air pollution also impairs the performance of athletes. In situations where "milliseconds and millimetres" often determine success on the field, air pollution can be an important factor influencing performance.
"There is sufficient medical evidence to justify inclusion of air pollution levels into the list of criteria on whether a game should be held," Aggarwal told The Telegraph. "The IMA also plans to take this up at an international level."
The IMA has sent a copy of its letter to the president of the International Cricket Council.
The doctors have expressed concern that the India-Sri Lanka Test had sent a misleading message that it is all right for children to play cricket outdoors even when the particulate matter levels are close to five times the safe limit.
They have pointed out that extreme high concentrations of air pollutants can trigger respiratory distress in healthy people and individuals vulnerable to respiratory illness. Poor air quality can also adversely affect athletes with asthma, allergies, or pulmonary disorders.
The IMA doctors also cited a review of multiple studies that had found that each unit increase in the concentration of particulate matter sized 2.5 microns in adults impairs the capacity for physical exercise.