ICC criticised for lack of action over 'existential threat' of climate change to cricket

A Bangladesh team support staff wearing mask to protect against air pollution takes part in a practice session ahead of the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in New Delhi, India
Some players and staff opted to wear masks in the warm-up ahead of Bangladesh's clash with Sri Lanka in Delhi - AP Photo/Manish Swarup

The International Cricket Council has been urged to face up to the “existential threat” of its environmental impact and sign up to the United Nations’s Climate Action framework.

The 13th edition of the Men’s ODI World Cup, which finished on Sunday, highlighted how climate change threatens the future of the game. In Delhi, extreme levels of air pollution led to Bangladesh cancelling a training session before their match with Sri Lanka, with fears that the match might have had to be cancelled.

England’s Joe Root described fielding in Mumbai, another city to suffer from severe air pollution, as like “eating air,” saying that “it just felt like you couldn’t get your breath”. In both Delhi and Mumbai, fireworks at the final group games were cancelled because of fears this would add further to air pollution.

Both India and England had to take internal flights between all of their nine group matches. The player of the match award for each game was sponsored by Aramco, the Saudi Arabian state-owned oil company.

“We as a cricketing fraternity must place greater emphasis on climate change,” said Daren Ganga, the former West Indies Test captain, urging the ICC to sign the United Nations Climate Change Sports for Climate Action Framework.

“Administrators must consider the protection of players in extreme conditions. Facilities must be adapted to suit our changing climate and collectively cricket needs to set itself a zero carbon goal. This is a real situation unfolding and I don’t think it’s sufficiently prioritised globally and from the ICC.”

Fifa, the International Basketball Federation, World Athletics and World Rugby are among the global sporting bodies to have already signed the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

“This ensures a bold commitment is made and actions will follow,” Ganga said. “Sport is a victim of climate change, but it’s also a contributor of climate change. And this has to bring about action.”

Volunteers carry a giant Bangladesh national flag amid smoggy conditions on the eve of the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi on November 5, 2023. Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha admitted on November 5 his team has "no choice" but to play Sri Lanka in smog-choked New Delhi as their failed World Cup mission winds down
Arun Jaitley Stadium in Dehli was, on occasion, severely affected by air pollution - Getty Images/Arun Sankar

Ganga called upon the ICC to transform how they think about their environmental footprint at all levels, highlighting the production of kit and recycling measures at grounds.

“There needs to be positive management of supply chains and manufacturing of items related to cricket. Insist that manufacturing standards incorporate more sustainable materials and promote shorter environmentally friendly supply chains. Upscale recycling. Collective action is required, time is running out since sport and cricket face an existential threat.”

“Cricket is among the most climate change-impacted sports,” said Madeleine Orr, assistant professor of Sport Ecology at the University of Toronto and the founder of the Sport Ecology Group.

“At this most recent World Cup, air pollution was a top concern and so was extreme heat. The future of cricket will depend on significant action by every level of management to adapt to these conditions. We will need to see heat policies and air pollution policies, strong medical teams and emergency protocols, and these measures will need to be taken at every level of the sport, right down to the little kids’ teams.”

Despite some worthwhile local initiatives, Orr said that there had been “nothing systemic across the sport” on climate change, calling upon the ICC to play a leadership role. She also highlighted the willingness of the ICC, like many other sports governing bodies, to enter agreements with Aramco.

“Fossil fuel sponsors, despite being a stain on the credibility of sport organisations - especially in relation to their sustainability efforts - remain ubiquitous in sport. So, it’s hard to pick on the ICC-Aramco partnership when there are so many others just like it. But in a world on fire, I would hope the ICC moves away from this funder as soon as possible.”

Areeba Hamid, the joint executive director at Greenpeace UK, also called on the ICC to become more environmentally aware.

“The impacts of climate change are felt by all, and countries vulnerable to climate change like India face particular challenges. Rather than cosying up with big oil, the ICC should be going out to bat for a sustainable future for the sport and the planet.”

Aramco have been contacted for comment.