Footballers participating in the Indian Super League (ISL) were seen wearing masks while training in Delhi on Tuesday. Delhi Dynamos take on Jamshedpur FC in their second home match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Wednesday and a couple of players were seen wearing masks during the home side's training session. During the ongoing second cricket Test at Feroz Shah Kotla between India and Sri Lanka, the visiting players complained of breathing problems due to smog and continued to wear anti-pollution masks on the field.
Dynamos coach Miguel Angel Portugal confirmed that his players wore masks but said they will not use them during the match on Wednesday. "This pollution is a problem but it's not solely for the players and me. It's for the people of Delhi. We have been training with masks, so it is fine. The players will not be donning the masks on match day on Wednesday," Portugal said at the pre-match press conference.
"It is a home and away league and it (tomorrow) is our home match. So there is no question of not playing, we have to play here. I will have no objection if a player chooses to wear one," he added.
Jamshedpur FC coach Steve Coppell said the football matches should not have been held in Delhi during this time of the year though he stopped short of saying that it's unsafe for players.
"Around Diwali last year I came to Delhi with the Kerala Blasters team. When we played last year, at that time the measure (level) of particulate matters was over 500. I think its 300 today," Coppell, who was the head coach of runners-up side Kerala Blasters in the last edition, said.
"For the last three years I have been in Delhi at this time and there has been the exactly same commentary about doing something but nothing has happened. Last year I said that matches should not be scheduled in Delhi around this particular time of the year. Common sense should have prevailed."
Understandably, Coppell, a former Manchester United player and Manchester City coach, said he would have loved to play in better conditions.
"It's not for sportsmen to say, it is a decision the health officials will have to make. If you ask me if I want to play in these conditions I would say I don't think so." Asked specifically if it's safe for the players, he said, "I don't know. I would have loved to play somewhere else in better conditions.
"No, it is very difficult to play football with masks. I appreciate cricket players can play by wearing masks but it is very difficult for footballers. It shows the contrast between the two games. Football is a very intense game," he said.
Delhi's viability as an international sports venue has been called into question after The Sri Lankan grievance came close on the heels of the furore that preceded last month's Delhi Half Marathon which took place despite high pollution levels and an appeal by the Indian Medical Association to cancel the event.
The second day's play in the ongoing cricket match was halted for 26 minutes after Sri Lankans complained of breathing problems forcing Indian captain Virat Kohli to declare the innings at 536/7.
The Indian team, however, has taken the conditions in its stride with pacer Mohammed Shami casually stating that they are "used to suffering" and did not want to make a big deal out of it.
(With PTI inputs)