On How Climate Change Threatens Cricket‘s Future
Well that didn’t last long, did it? Mere days after taking on what he called the “awesome responsibility” of being Prime Minister, M Christopher Luxon has started blaming everyone else, and complaining that he has inherited “economic vandalism on an unprecedented scale” - which is how most of us are describing his own coalition agreements, 100 Day Plan, and backdated $3 billion handout to landlords.
If Luxon can’t handle even the minor challenges of the temporary economic slowdown that the Reserve Bank has engineered in order to bring down inflation, he should resign. Everything since the election has confirmed the suspicion that he isn’t up to the job. By blaming Labour in the absurdly extravagant fashion he did yesterday, Luxon is refusing to shoulder responsibility for the job he’s been elected to do.
Footnote: The new government seems intent on dragging New Zealand back to the days when Maori and women knew their place, and blokes could prefer the company of other blokes without anyone reading anything into that… Britain’s 1950s pop icon Helen Shapiro could have been singing the new Luxon/Nicola Willis theme song. Because when Big Pharma and Big Tobacco make googly eyes at Christopher Luxon, he can’t be held responsible for whatever he does next:
Climate change vs cricket
The Black Caps have just begun a test series with Bangladesh, a country that’s at extreme risk from climate change. Sea levels are rising, and… The related salinisation process is destroying the arable land on which tens of millions of Bangladeshis currently eke out a living. At a different level, cricket itself is under threat from global warming, and the countries lining up to fund the game (e.g. Saudi Arabia) are part of the problem.
Unlike football and rugby, cricket can’t be played in the rain. Like golf, it also requires players to be out in the sun for hours on end. Batters are swaddled in extensive padding and helmets, and all players wear long trousers regardless of the temperature. Like golf courses, cricket grounds also need to be irrigated with huge amounts of water, which is an increasingly scarce and valuable commodity on a warming planet.
In short, cricket and golf as we’ve known them both face serious challenges from the rising heat and the increasing rain brought on by climate change. In England, for instance, the incidence of rain- affected matches has reportedly doubled since 2011.
Ironically though, both cricket and golf are being subjected to takeover bids from Saudi Arabia, the kingdom of fossil fuels. After an acrimonious battle, golf’s traditional governing body (the PGA) has merged with the Saudi-financed LIV golf tour. Given the massive influx of oil money, it will be the Saudis calling the shots. As England’s cricket captain Ben Stokes said recently of the Saudis, “You can’t compete with money, especially the money that Saudi Arabia is throwing around to certain people.” Golf, football, tennis, boxing and Formula One racing have been among the sports recently inundated with Saudi cash.
It is now cricket’s turn on the auction block. Cricket is the world’s second most popular sport, and the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the game’s most popular and lucrative competition. The IPL has already pocketed large amounts of sponsorship money from the Saudi oil company Aramco, (which also owns, among other things, the British football club Newcastle United) and also from the Saudi tourism authority, as part of the kingdom’s “Visit Saudi” marketing drive. Bloomberg News has now reported that the Saudi government has made the IPL a $5 billion investment offer:
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisers have sounded out Indian government officials about moving the IPL into a holding company valued at as much as $30 billion, in which Saudi Arabia would then take a significant stake..
In India however, the politics of allowing the Saudis to make such a blatant bid for control of India’s national game are a sensitive matter, and the deal is likely to be deferred until after India’s federal elections next year:
While the Saudi government is keen to press on with a deal, the Indian government and the country’s powerful but opaque cricket regulator — the BCCI — are likely to take a call on the proposal after next year’s federal elections....The BCCI is led by Jay Shah, the son of India’s Home Minister Amit Shah — a close ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Saudi Arabia has claimed that its sports investments are all about boosting its economy. The kingdom has been less candid about its use of “sportswashing” to launder Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record. Over the last couple of years, the Saudis have created their own football league (the Saudi Pro League) and have paid stars like Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar very handsomely to play in it. Lionel Messi, though, turned down a reported $2 billion offer. Despite the occasional setback, the Saudis have reportedly convinced FIFA to award them the hosting rights for the 2034 FIFA Men’s World Cup.
As with almost everything else in the kingdom, the sportswashing strategy leads straight back to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As the Hindustan Times recently reported:
Most of these Saudi moves across sports emanate from a $700 billion investor, the PIF (Public Investment Fund) which works at the behest of the kingdom. It’s governed by Harward-educated Yasir Al-Rumayyan who also happens to be Aramco chairman. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is understood to be the mastermind behind Saudi Arabia’s aspirations in the sporting world.
On recent global estimates, sport is a $US1.1 trillion business, annually. The sporting universe is expanding rapidly into digital space – e.g. e-commerce and online sports gambling - and into physical space as well, with an estimated 3.5 billion people predicted to be participants in some form of sport by 2025.
This makes sports the second most common global leisure activity after travelling, with 35% of the world’s population participating in sports at least once a month.
On these figures, it could be argued that sport truly is the new global religion. Those estimated 3.5 billion participants in sport by 2025 would exceed the 2.35 billion people who profess to be Christians, and the estimated 1.8 billion Muslims, worldwide.
NZ’s slow scoring on climate change
As elsewhere, sport is a major employer in New Zealand, and a prime form of leisure and entertainment. Our top sporting teams (the All Blacks, the Silver Ferns) are pillars of national identity. Given the power of sporting heroes to spread public awareness of climate change...you would think the likes of the All Blacks, Warriors, Black Caps and Silver Ferns would be front and centre of our attempts to future proof the country (and its sporting codes) against the threats from global warming. Yet that isn’t happening.
The United Nations has recognised the potential of sport to be a leading force in climate change mitigation. The UN has initiated a “Sports for Climate Action Framework” and invited national sporting bodies, international sports organisations and individual sporting codes to sign on to its emission reduction goals. As the UN explains in the explanatory document for the Sports for Climate Action Framework:
Sports organisations can display climate leadership by engaging actively and collectively in the climate neutrality journey, in turn helping to differentiate from competitors, build brand reputation and engage their sports personnel, employees and members on environmental issues. This can be achieved by taking responsibility for their climate footprint, helping global ambition step-up and incentivising action beyond sports to take meaningful and transformative climate action.
However.... On the UN’s list of signatories, New Zealand sporting codes and their governing bodies barely figure at all, either on the UN “Framework” list, or on the UN’s related “Race to Zero” list. Unfortunately, there seems little point in expecting leadership from the new government on any aspect of the climate change response. By - for example – opening New Zealand up again to oil and gas exploration, the new administration appears happy to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
The Saudis are not the only country seeking to profit from cricket being turned into a truly global sport. In the United States in July, a group of wealthy investors launched a six team T20 tournament called Major League Cricket. The main investors are Silicon Valley tech billionaires of Indian descent such as Satya Nadella of Microsoft, and Shamtanu Narayen of Adobe.
According to this accountb in Forbes magazine, America’s first T20 season exceeded expectations.