No climate for cricket: Global warming turns the heat on players

At the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, players had to contend with air pollution aggravated by increased temperatures in 20 of 47 matches. Now NZ is next up to bat against climate change

Representative image of Indian captain Rohit Sharma at a press conference (photo: BCCI)
Representative image of Indian captain Rohit Sharma at a press conference (photo: BCCI)


The recently concluded men’s Cricket World Cup in India reached record audiences.

But there was one thing the organisers did not want those viewers to see (other than India’s defeat by Australia in the final): cricket’s own climate crisis.

Along with battling heat and humidity, players were forced to contend with unhealthy air created by pollutants from vehicles, factories and construction, and aggravated by increased temperatures in 20 of the 47 matches.

As Indian captain Rohit Sharma remarked, “It is not ideal and everyone knows that.”

The United Nations describes the threat more forcefully. Secretary-general António Guterres has warned that the world is on a “catastrophic path” to a “hellish future”. It is a future that threatens the very viability of cricket.

Cricket and the climate crisis

As an outdoor summer game in which the natural environment plays a unique role, cricket is perhaps the pitch sport most at risk from a changing climate.

Increased temperatures and heatwaves threaten the safety of players and spectators, as well as the preparation and maintenance of playing surfaces.

Equally, cricket is vulnerable to higher risks of drought and flooding. Air pollution, especially in the Indian subcontinent, continues to cloud the game.

The threat is compounded by the precarious regions in which cricket is played. Bangladesh and Pakistan, for instance, are ranked seventh and eighth respectively for vulnerability on the Climate Risk Index.

At the same time, cricket is not merely a potential victim of the climate crisis—it is a contributor to it!

While it lags behind other sports in calculating its environmental impact, cricket is a resource-heavy game. Preparation of a cricket field requires around 60,000 litres of water a day. An expanding international touring schedule means regular long-haul flights.

One of the few existing studies estimated an Indian Premier League (IPL) match produced about 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Overall, cricket’s carbon footprint is substantial.

Sport and sustainability

For a game facing a potential existential crisis, cricket’s sustainability efforts have been slow by comparison with other sports.

In line with the Paris Agreement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has committed to a 50 per cent reduction in direct and indirect carbon emissions by 2030, and promised that the 2032 Brisbane Olympics will be “climate-positive”.

Both FIFA and World Rugby have sustainability plans, as do Formula One and most American sports leagues, including the NBA. Sail GP even has an 'Impact League' that measures environmental mitigation efforts.

While some scepticism might be warranted — FIFA held a World Cup in oil-rich Qatar and the 2030 men’s tournament will be held across two continents — at least the intent is clear.

By contrast, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has not published a sustainability strategy. Of its full members, only the England and Wales Cricket Board has such a plan.

Of the more than 200 sporting organisations to sign up to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework — which requires participants to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2040 — only six are cricketing entities, and most are in England.

For the rest, the first step would be to sign up to the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework — and get some sustainability runs on the board.

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