Melbourne City’s Erik Paartalu knows all too well the impact of China's pollution on a athlete's body after spending the whole 2013 Chinese Super league season with Tianjin Teda.
“You could taste the pollution” Paartalu said on playing in the thick of China’s smog.
Pollution in China is now an openly discussed topic, the much publicised smog that engulfs some cities is frequently the center of conversation among local residents.
News stories negative or positive are published almost weekly but some of the most damning criticisms have come from visiting sports personalities.
In 2013 the China Open tennis final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal almost didn’t happen when Nadal was reluctant to play. Most recently, in the build up to Brazil and Argentina’s friendly in Beijing, pollution drew harsh criticism from some big stars.
“The Chinese people do not deserve to live like this,” said Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain defender David Luiz. His international colleague Philippe Coutinho noted: “The air is rather strange.”
While their comments drew attention, most seem to forget there are sportsmen and women in China who perform on a regular basis in the same conditions.
In a frank interview with FourFourTwo, Paartalu explains how pollution affected him and that football needs to do something about it.
“The pollution affected me on a daily basis,” the 28-year-old said.
“There was an adaptation period at first – sore eyes, burning lungs and even blood in the mornings in my nose. Once I got used to it, it would still be hard to train on those bad days.
“Football clubs need to cancel games and training sessions when pollution reaches certain limits.
“You could taste the pollution, an almost metallic taste on your teeth on the really bad days.”
Paartalu moved onto Thai side Muangthong United before returning to Australia with City.
Due to the large amount of factories in China, pollution levels often rise around national holidays. In the case of the Brazil and Argentina clash, this occurred just after the October ‘Golden Week’ holiday where factories are known to double their output before and after holidays to deal with lost working time in holiday periods.
While Beijing often gets the pollution attention, the issue is widespread and most major Chinese cities experience the issue throughout the year.
“Tianjin is rated one of the worst cities when it comes to pollution,” Paartalu continued.
“One game against Shandong (Luneng) I remember it being so hot and polluted, it was one of the hardest things in my life.
“I can remember continually having to tell myself to block it all out and not to worry. It was like closing your garage door, turning your car exhaust on and running around in the enclosed space.”
“If we had a normal day in Tianjin in Australia I reckon people would stop going to work and the whole country would be in uproar,” he says.
Pollution carries several dangers particularly for athletes. It is measured on a scale as follows; Good (0-50), Moderate (51-100), Unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), Unhealthy (151-200), Very Unhealthy (201-300) and Hazardous (300+).
At the time of writing Sydney read 30 on this scale, Paris 37, London 52, Washington 30, Santa Fe 34. Beijing, Nanjing and Hong Kong were 197, 183 and 115 respectively while Paartalu’s former home Tianjin was reading 304 according to website aqicn.org.
The Chinese government has promised improvements by 2017 and researchers at China’s Tsinghua University have suggested that levels of the dangerous PM2.5 particle would fall by 25.6% in Beijing and 18.7% in Tianjin by this time.
Paartalu believes the problem doesn’t only lie with the Chinese and didn’t see much happening to change it in his time here.
“It's normal for Chinese people and it's so sad that nothing is being done to fix it,” he said.
“We in the world are responsible as much as the Chinese for this problem - they make everything there and so cause the pollution.
“If possible I would love the big cities to cut cars out completely and have everyone use the underground system or tram network in the short term.”
Brazil and Argentina’s players took shelter in their hotels to avoid the pollution but they should have spared a thought for the existing sportsmen and women who must deal with the problem on a daily basis as China battles the serious issue of developing the country and sport at the same time.comments