Delhi smog: Boxers forced to wear masks at world championships due to toxic air pollution

Harry Cockburn

Female boxers at the World Championships in Delhi have been forced to wear surgical masks, scarves or even t-shirts to cover their mouths during training as pollution levels have soared to several times above safe limits.

The boxers, who have gathered in the capital for the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships, have said they have not been given protective gear, while the weather, with no wind to blow the smog away, has aggravated the problem in one of the world’s most polluted cities.

On Tuesday, the level of deadly particulate matter PM 2.5, which lodges deep in the lungs, was at 407 micrograms per cubic metre, about eight times the safe limit, according to a reading by the country’s pollution control board.

Last week readings reached 999 micrograms per cubic metre.

In Delhi, high levels of pollution are exacerbated every November and December by the seasonal burning of crop stubble in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.

Rubbish burning, dust from construction sites and huge diesel emissions from vehicles and industry have also contributed to the problem.


Though the championship is taking place in an indoor arena, teams are worried about the impact of the high level of pollution on athletes.

French coach Anthony Veniant said he had asked for the tournament to be moved out of Delhi but his request was turned down.

“We feel the air is no good. Some of the parents of these players are worried and we tell our players to restrict their time outside,” Veniant said.

Jay Kowli, secretary general of the Boxing Federation of India, said the air quality was being monitored but ruled out any change of location.

India Gate sits under a thick layer of pollution haze the morning after Diwali festival in Delhi (AP)

“Shifting the venue is impossible. Delhi has the best sports facilities in the country,” Mr Kowli said.

Competitors have been hard at training this week, despite concerns.

“My family is worried. We know it is not good for our body,” said 27-year old Bulgarian Stanimira Petrova, a gold-medallist in the bantamweight category in the championships in 2014.

“It’s difficult. I wear a scarf but I have to get accustomed.”

Daniel Nash, the coach for the Swedish team, said pollution was a problem, but he had asked the boxers to focus on the competition.

“I’m telling my players to not let this issue affect their game,” he said.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10, another pollutant, leads to respiratory illnesses.

British studies have previously recorded a 7 per cent increase in mortality with each 5 micrograms per cubic metre increase in PM 2.5.

Reuters contributed to this report