Women boxers wear masks, scarves to beat smog at world championship in Delhi


NEW DELHI: Women boxers training for a world championship starting in the Indian capital this week are wearing surgical masks, scarves, and even T-shirts across their mouths as the level of air pollution rises several times beyond the safe limit.

The AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships is taking place in an indoor stadium from Thursday through to Nov. 24 but teams are complaining about a toxic smog hanging over the city, caused by the seasonal burning of crop stubble and emissions from vehicles and industry.

The weather, with no wind to blow the pollution away, has aggravated the problem in one of the world’s most polluted cities.

“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.”

On Tuesday, the level of deadly particulate matter PM 2.5 that lodge deep in the lungs was at 407, about eight times the safe limit, according to a reading by the pollution control board.

Authorities have banned the entry of heavy vehicles into the city and ordered construction work to stop and sprinklers to keep down the dust. But the air quality remains in the severe zone.

Seven European boxers whom Reuters spoke to complained that the air left a bad taste and irritated their eyes.

Their coaches said they were advised about the poor air but organisers had not given them any protective gear.

Ajay Singh, president of the Boxing Federation of India, said Delhi’s air quality was improving as the effects of last week’s Hindu festival of Diwali – when tens of thousands of firecrackers are let off, clogging the air with smoke – were wearing off.

“I’m confident there will not be any problems faced by the boxers especially with the championship being held indoors. We have all the necessary standards maintained and precautions taken.”

Indian Olympic flyweight bronze medallist M.C. Mary Kom is among those taking part.