Saudi money is the last thing cricket needs – Adam Minter

In the wake of Saudi Arabia’s foray into global sports, including a proposed $5 billion investment in the Indian Premier League (IPL), a critical concern emerges: climate change. Cricket, more than any other sport, is already grappling with extreme weather events. The scorching heat, precipitation, and storms associated with a warming globe pose dire consequences for the game. The IPL, owned by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, faces a dilemma, as the Saudi government’s active support for fossil fuels contradicts cricket’s need for environmentally responsible partners. In a world where sports struggle amid a degraded environment, the economic, cultural, and health impacts on billions cannot be ignored. The recent Cricket World Cup in India, marred by suffocating air pollution, exemplifies the urgent need for action. As climate-related challenges intensify across South and Southeast Asia, the heartlands of cricket fandom, the sport’s safety and productivity are compromised. Calls for action have come from diverse quarters, from cricket teams to former prime ministers. The warming climate not only heightens safety risks during prolonged matches but also disrupts play with increased precipitation. Cricket’s response lies in rescheduling matches, embracing sustainability initiatives, and prioritising partnerships that align with environmental goals. However, an IPL partnership with Saudi Arabia, a nation resistant to fossil fuel reduction, contradicts these imperatives. While Saudi Aramco’s sponsorship of the league may indicate a natural progression, cricket’s survival hinges on alliances with partners committed to addressing the climate crisis. Despite potential short-term gains, the long-term cost of collaboration with Saudi Arabia is deemed too high for cricket’s future prosperity.

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The Last Thing the Game of Cricket Needs Is Saudi Money: Adam Minter

By Adam Minter

This year, Saudi Arabia’s expansion into global sports has disrupted professional golf, upended the soccer business and garnered the kingdom the 2034 World Cup. Now it’s turning to cricket. Bloomberg News reported that Saudi Arabia proposed making an investment worth as much as $5 billion into the Indian Premier League, cricket’s most popular and lucrative event.

It’s a tempting offer, but one that the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the IPL’s owner, should turn down if it values the future of the sport.

The problem is climate change. More than almost any other sport, cricket has already been affected by the extreme heat, precipitation and storms associated with a warming globe. Without drastic changes to emissions and the sport, the consequences for cricket will be dire. With its active support for expanding fossil fuel use, the Saudi government is the wrong partner for the IPL and global cricket to achieve these goals.

It might seem frivolous to worry about whether sports can survive climate change. It’s not. Economically speaking, it’s a trillion-dollar business that directly and indirectly employs millions. Culturally, they provide exercise, entertainment and community to billions. A world in which sports are more difficult to play, watch and enjoy due to a degraded environment is a less affluent, healthy and pleasant one in which to live.

Just ask India. Over the last month, it’s had the honor of hosting the Cricket World Cup, a quadrennial event akin to the better-known soccer World Cup. It should be a proud moment for the cricket-mad country, where informal matches sprout up in parks, lanes and fields at all hours of the day, and the sport’s stars are among the country’s biggest celebrities.

Unfortunately, suffocating air pollution in several host cities, including Delhi, has caused practices to be canceled and some players to rely on inhalers. For India, it’s not just an embarrassment; it could also affect its planned bid for the 2036 Olympic Games.

Even if the country made a more concerted effort to tackle its air pollution, the climate-related challenges facing South and Southeast Asia —  home to 2.6 billion people combined and most of the world’s cricket fans — are just beginning.

Over the last two years, record heat has seared the regions — from Pakistan to Thailand — and the heat waves are projected to continue.

Individuals and entities ranging from the former prime minister of Grenada (a cricket-loving nation) to the Royal Challengers Bangalore of the Indian Premier League (who donned green jerseys in 2022 to bring attention to scorching temperatures) have called attention to cricket’s climate crisis and called for action.

Playing the game in the warming climate inhibits safety and productivity — similar to other jobs. One Day Internationals, or ODIs, the form of cricket played during the World Cup, can last up to eight hours. In India, temperatures during the latter part of the game’s season can exceed 100 degrees, and — over even short periods —  heighten the risk of heat stroke and other ailments. Cricket batsmen encased in helmets and padding are at even greater risk.

Meanwhile, greater levels of precipitation and other extreme weather events are wreaking other sorts of havoc.

Unlike rugby and soccer, cricket isn’t played in the rain. So, as the rain increases, so do match disruptions. In England, for example, the rate of rain-affected matches has more than doubled since 2011. The effect on cricket facilities is also extreme. In South Africa, drought is affecting water available for irrigation of cricket grounds; in England, increased heat and precipitation encourages the growth of damaging fungus. In each case, costs go up and — equally important — the nature of the game changes as players adjust to wetter or drier conditions.

Of course, no organized cricket league or team can slow or halt climate change. But they can make efforts to reduce safety issues related to heat by rescheduling matches and seasons for cooler parts of the year and allowing athletes to wear shorts instead of traditional trousers. Associations and leagues must continue to focus on embracing sustainability initiatives that aim at carbon-neutral facilities and operations and ensure that all partnerships, including advertising, equipment contracts and broadcasting, prioritize sustainability first. 

An IPL partnership with Saudi Arabia is incompatible with those goals. In recent years, the Middle East’s biggest oil producer has actively pushed back on efforts to reduce fossil fuel use, going so far as to block a call for the world to burn less oil at last year’s climate summit in Egypt. That pushback doesn’t seem to trouble the IPL, however. Last year, Saudi Aramco, the largely state-owned oil and gas company, entered into a sponsorship with the league. An investment by the Saudi state itself might seem like the natural next step.

It shouldn’t be. For cricket to survive and prosper in a changing climate, it needs partners who are committed to addressing the crisis. Saudi Arabia might well benefit from its association with the world’s second most popular sport. But for cricket, long-term, the price of collaboration is simply too high.

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