Athletes worried about local air quality

BEIJING — After years of preparations for the Olympics, Beijing is ready for its close-up. But how clear a view the cameras will get is anyone’s guess, given the local air quality.

Media in other countries carried shots of Beijing taken over the weekend, showing smog so thick that visibility was restricted to just a couple of hundred yards. Beijing has already spent $17.5 billion to deal with the pollution, to no avail. Authorities say the haze is normal for the city at this time of year and has nothing to do with pollution.

Some athletes are worried; world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia pulled out of the marathon because he suffers from asthma.

But Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, said, “The air quality in Beijing during the Olympic Games will not affect the health of athletes.

“A blue sky doesn’t mean the air quality is good. If you take a shower, you can’t see clearly because of the steam, but it doesn’t mean it’s pollution,” he said, adding that photographs were not a good indication of air quality.

“The Intl. Olympic Committee and its medical commission have concluded that good air quality is fully guaranteed,” said Du.

Jacques Rogge, head of the Intl. Olympic Committee, said poor air quality could result in the suspension of endurance races such as long-distance cycling and the marathon. It’s not clear exactly how bad the air would have to be for an event to be canceled.

It’s forbidden to bring in measuring equipment to independently verify air quality. But Beijing is taking no chances: Organizers are preparing emergency measures to clear the air before the Aug. 8 start of the Games. “We will implement an emergency plan 48 hours in advance if the air quality deteriorates,” Li Xin, a senior engineer with the environmental bureau, told the China Daily newspaper.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more