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 cancelled 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.
(Adam Minter is the author of "Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade.")
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.