Cricket shouldn’t float on barrels of oil at a time of climate crisis

Cricket faces two external perils, both man-made and connected: The first is climate change, and the other the sportswashing ambitions of Saudi Arabia

April 26, 2023 12:30 am | Updated 05:42 pm IST

Image for representation purpose only.

Image for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

In the recent issue of Wisden, the 160th, there is a plea for giving Test cricket the ‘kiss of life’. The editor wasn’t exaggerating. In fact, if anything he might have actually understated the problem. Perhaps it is cricket itself, in all its forms and formats that is in need of the kiss of life.

The Almanack says: “The national boards have handed the keys to the self-interested few, and lost control of players they nurtured. The Indian franchises have been allowed to take over the house… private money calls the shots.”

Man-made perils

Internal threats leading to an implosion is one thing, and worrying enough, but the game faces two external perils, both man-made, and not coincidentally, connected. The first is climate change, and the other the sportswashing ambitions of Saudi Arabia who think it is a good idea to throw pots of oil money at various sports as a PR ploy. Respectability can be bought if you have enough money and good marketing.

At Lord’s last week, Peter Frankopan, professor of global history at Oxford and author, recently, of The Earth Transformed, spoke at the Wisden dinner of the climate challenges facing cricket. He told The Guardian, “Cricket will be the hardest hit of all the major pitch sports by the changing climate. Some 239 million people around the world live less than one metre above sea level, including nearly 75% of Bangladesh — and sea levels are rising.

“In the Caribbean, research suggests that hurricanes could be up to five times more likely if climate targets are missed; in Pakistan, almost 10 million people were displaced by the terrible floods of 2022.”

And as world temperatures rise, he gave us a reminder that “Heat exposure isn’t just dangerous physically, it affects your cognitive function.”

Take a look at the sponsors

It is time cricket took a hard look at its sponsors. Last year Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, became a global sponsor of the sport. The company’s contribution to the climate crisis is immense. Fossil fuel and sport do not make good partners in this age. All sports should have standards for sponsors just as they do for players and officials. Clean, renewable energy should be the minimum requirement for sponsorship.

Saudi Arabia are also looking for a more direct involvement, with an IPL-style tournament blessed (and possibly run) by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. With IPL franchises in the fray. This means Indian players, so far unavailable for T20 franchise tournaments around the world might be given no-objection certificates to participate in Saudi Arabia in a tournament that will take another chunk of dates away from the international calendar. It might even rival the IPL for the amount of money involved, for, as the Saudis have shown with golf and one-off boxing or tennis, they have to be the biggest, the most paying, the greatest etc. Sport as ego-massager.

Concerns about development

Whatever the criticisms against national cricket boards like the BCCI, the fact remains that cricket is their main concern; the development, advancement and spread of the game is as important as the growth of the players for their respective countries.

The Saudis are unlikely to have any such issues — the game’s not as important; it is a means to an end. It brings with it acceptance for and approval of a country where women have no voice and power is absolute in the ruler, where dissent is dealt with summarily and all are not equal.

That might apply, with variations, to some cricket-playing countries too, so why not Saudi, some might ask? When inequality is built into law and when motivations are as clear as they are, perhaps it is time to take a step back and consider. Selling the game to the highest bidder is not in the job description of any administrator.

The cynic might argue that with the climate crisis set to bring a premature end to the game anyway, perhaps wisdom lies in making as much money from it as quickly as possible before that world ends. And who better to take that money from than the company which has been responsible for 4.38% of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965?

The changing shape of cricket has been a running theme for a while now. But those were changes from within. Now we have the enemy at the gates too.

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