US baseballer Gavin Cecchini cited his family’s respiratory illnesses as his reason for quitting. (Flickr: slgckgc – CC BY 2.0)
A star baseballer from the United States has left Australia over concerns about the health effects of bushfire smoke, which is wreaking havoc on sports matches.
- Gavin Cecchini ended his contract with Canberra Cavalry at the weekend, midway through a smoke-affected match
- Heavy pollution also forced the Big Bash League to abandon a Twenty20 game at nearby Manuka Oval
- In Adelaide, a W-League soccer referee left the field after falling ill from inhaling bushfire smoke
Former New York Mets player Gavin Cecchini signed with the Canberra Cavalry just last month, and was lauded as a high-profile import who would lift the Australian league’s standards.
But Cecchini quit his contract after heavy pollution on Saturday night forced the Cavalry’s match against the Brisbane Bandits to be suspended.
He didn’t show up when the game resumed on Sunday morning.
Huge bushfires to Canberra’s east have left the usually pristine bush capital with some of the world’s worst recorded levels of air quality over the past fortnight.
On the same night the Cavalry’s game was postponed, a Twenty20 cricket match at nearby Manuka Oval was abandoned when the evening breeze carried thick clouds of bushfire smoke into the city.
Cavalry chief executive Donn McMichael said Cecchini’s departure was a shock — the player’s Oklahoma-based agent had called with the news about two hours before he was scheduled to play on Sunday.
“It came as a real surprise. Having said that, I understand it, because his family’s had respiratory problems previously,” McMichael said.
“But it’s still very disappointing for us. He’d been very good.”
The Australian Baseball League has no set policy on air pollution, so the teams consulted as the smoke worsened.
“Over the three nights, we were keeping on eye on the [air quality index],” McMichael said.
Once it reached 300 — about 12 times the accepted safe threshold — staff suspended the match.
Smoke chokes women’s soccer match
Meanwhile, Football Federal Australia (FFA) officials were preparing to reschedule men’s and women’s matches as ongoing bushfires threatened to interfere with this week’s games.
In the W-League on Sunday, Adelaide United hosted Canberra United in a fixture that was blighted by smoke from the nearby Adelaide Hills.
Players and referees struggled to breathe clearly throughout the match, with medical staff providing Ventolin inhalers to help them cope with the pollution.
W-League referee Isabella Blaess struggles towards the end of Sunday’s smoke-affected match. (ABC TV)
Match referee Isabelle Blaess became so ill she was forced to leave the pitch with about five minutes to go, and was replaced by an assistant.
A Canberra United spokesman said the players found the conditions extremely difficult.
“The fact that even a light smoke cloud affected them in this way … I’m assuming there will be a plan in place for Thursday’s game [against Western Sydney],” he said.
An FFA spokesman said the federation would decide whether to proceed with A-League and W-League fixtures in NSW and the ACT closer to match day.
“We’re monitoring the situation and, obviously, we have player and match-official welfare as our priority,” the spokesman said.
“If it [pollution] gets to a point where it’s inappropriate to play, we’ll reschedule the match.
“But the smoke is so variable at the moment that it will be difficult to make a call until we’re closer to kick-off.”