Doctors warn over Delhi’s ‘suicidal’ half-marathon

Organizers say the “highest level of safety-standards, with bio-secure zones” have been laid on for the race starting at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.(File/AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Doctors warn over Delhi’s ‘suicidal’ half-marathon

  • Organizers say the “highest level of safety-standards, with bio-secure zones” have been laid on for the race starting at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
  • Delhi has been hit by a winter pollution crisis each year for the past decade when crop-stubble burning from nearby states, cold temperatures and car and industrial pollution produce a toxic mix

NEW DELHI: Top doctors have warned elite runners are taking a major health risk by competing in Sunday’s New Delhi half-marathon in the midst of a major coronavirus outbreak and soaring air pollution.
Women’s marathon world record-holder Brigid Kosgei from Kenya and Ethiopia’s two-time men’s winner Andamlak Belihu are among the 49 elite athletes running the 21-kilometer (13.1 mile) race, while thousands of amateurs are taking part virtually.
Organizers say the “highest level of safety-standards, with bio-secure zones” have been laid on for the race starting at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
But with New Delhi recording more than 500,000 virus cases, and air quality in the world’s most polluted capital hovering between ‘unhealthy’ and ‘hazardous’, health experts said the athletes should think twice.
“It will be suicidal for runners to run the race this time. We have such high levels of pollution, we have the risk of coronavirus,” Arvind Kumar, founder trustee of the Lung Care Foundation, told AFP.
“With the presence of this twin threat if people are still running despite knowing everything, well, I have no words to express my anguish.”
“Whether you are an international elite runner or you are a small boy from a village, the damaging potential of a damaging agent remains the same,” said the doctor.
Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the country’s top research body, told AFP that “in an ideal situation” the race should not be run.
“Because of high levels of air pollution, exercising outside in this weather sometimes can lead to aggravation of underlying lung problems,” he said.
“Even if you are an elite runner the air pollution would still affect your lung.”
Normally thousands of amateurs would also take part, but because of the coronavirus they have been told to run their chosen route between Wednesday and Sunday and chart their time on an app.
Delhi has been hit by a winter pollution crisis each year for the past decade when crop-stubble burning from nearby states, cold temperatures and car and industrial pollution produce a toxic mix.
This year, the Indian capital is also a major concern in the battle against the coronavirus. India is the world’s second worst-hit country behind the United States, with about 9.3 million cases.
The city is considering imposing a night-time curfew because of the rising number of cases, according to media reports.
Kosgei, who is visiting India for the first time, acknowledged her concerns about traveling for the race.
“We have definitely been affected by Covid-19. I had to convince my parents and family back home to allow me to visit Delhi for the half-marathon,” she said.
“The virus has affected most of the sporting events. But it is important for us to take care of ourselves.”
As in other countries, nearly all sport in India has been canceled.
After repeated delays, the Indian Premier League cricket went ahead in the United Arab Emirates and the Indian Super League football is being held in a bio-secure “bubble” in Goa.


Female footballers from remote Chitral bring their game to Pakistani capital

Updated 28 January 2021

Female footballers from remote Chitral bring their game to Pakistani capital

  • Chitral Women’s Sports Club founder Karishma Ali has organized a week-long training camp for female athletes in Islamabad
  • Club, founded two years ago with 60 girls, now has over 150 members

RAWALPINDI: Forty young football enthusiasts in matching black tracksuits jogged down the cement bleachers framing the expansive football pitch of the Islamabad Sports Complex on Tuesday, egging one another on and cheering as they embarked on a new day of sports and fun.

While athletes of all stripes could be seen on the many fields and tracks of the complex, what made this particular sight unique was that all of the athletes were young girls from Pakistan’s northernmost, long-neglected region of Chitral. The girls were brought to the capital by the Chitral Women’s Sports Club, the brainchild of national football star Karishma Ali.

Running a football club for girls from poor families in a remote, mountainous area of Pakistan is not easy during a pandemic, but Ali has not let the challenging circumstances stop her from pursuing her dream of helping girls in her native Chitral region.

“Usually when we do our activities, it’s kept secret and done far from their villages for security reasons,” Ali, 23, told Arab News on Tuesday, at the Islamabad Sports Complex. “This is why I brought them here, to give them a more comfortable environment. You can already see the change in their confidence, how they are playing out in the open versus at home.”

Ali started her club two years ago with 60 girls between the ages of 8 and 16. Now the club has over 150 members who ski and play volleyball, cricket and football.

Ali hopes the club will help the girls overcome both sexual discrimination and poverty in a country where boys’ education and sports are prioritized. Her dream is to help her girls win sports scholarships in professional colleges in Pakistan and beyond.

“These girls have talent,” said Ali, who has represented her country at international football tournaments. “If we get requisite support, we can have 1,000 female footballers from Chitral.”

In Islamabad, the footballers are attending a week-long camp from Jan. 23-29 under Coach Jose Alonso who runs a Spanish Football Academy in the capital. The camp has also given them the opportunity to interact and play with other female football stars.

“I am excited and happy because I see the girls smiling every day,” said Ali. “I haven’t seen a single upset face. They are getting the chance not only to play the way other athletes get to play and practice out in the open, but also to have fun.”

Indeed, for many of the girls, aged between 12 and 16, this is their first time away from home and in the capital.

“We do not get opportunities like this back home. Just having the chance to come and play every day has been really fun,” Zakira Nida, 14, said. “That’s what we lack the most: opportunities.”

“Boys get a lot of chances to play in our region,” said Mehek Sultan, 15. “But our society does not just consist of boys. We are here, too. We should also get to play because participating in sports is good for everyone.”

The Pakistani women’s football team, which faced a FIFA ban due to inactivity in 2013, remained dormant even after the ban was lifted in 2017. Last year in October 2020, the Pakistan Football Federation began work to revive the sport by organizing football camps.

Ali’s own passion for football began when she was nine years old and watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup with her father.

“I just knew this is the game for me,” she had said in media interviews last year.

But it was not easy. When the community discovered Ali’s football career, some were deeply hostile, and she received messages threatening to kill her if she continued.

“It was seen as inappropriate culturally because I would wear shorts, thereby baring my skin,” she told reporters.

The situation eased in 2019 when Ali was selected for Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Asia list of rising stars and the community began to recognize her achievements.

Now, Ali says it is high time people in Pakistani sports management begin to believe in women.

“Women’s teams are becoming famous all over the world,” she said. “In the US, they are winning the fight to be paid equally and we are still fighting for our right to play.”