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Pollution cloud over Beijing Olympics

IOC has n't ruled out postponing endurance competitions like the marathon because of the heavy pollution in the air over the Chinese capital.

world Updated: Mar 18, 2008 04:40 IST
HT Correspondent

There’s a dark shadow over certain events at the Beijing Olympics this August. In Lausanne on Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) didn’t rule out postponing endurance competitions like the marathon because of the heavy pollution in the air over the Chinese capital. If that happens, it will be unprecedented.

There may be “some risk (to the health of the athletes)” from the pollution, the IOC said. It will consider a ‘Plan B’, and may even postpone events if, after daily monitoring of the air quality, weather conditions and other relevant data, it finds the conditions aren’t conducive for competition.

Events that require a minimum one hour of continuous physical effort at a high level, are under the scanner, the IOC said. These would include the marathon, swimming, mountain biking, urban road cycling, triathlon and the walks.

“(The IOC will be) working with... international (sports) federations... to put in place procedures which will allow a ‘Plan B’ to be activated... if necessary. The procedure will include daily monitoring... and a joint IOC-sports federation decision to postpone the event if necessary,” the release said.

Randhir Singh, IOA secretary-general and the IOC Co-ordination Commission member for the Youth Olympics, said he could not comment, as he had not seen the communiqué. But tennis player Justine Henin and men’s marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie have aired a gripe about the air in Beijing saying competing there could aggravate their asthma problem.

Last year Britain’s athlete Paula Radcliffe, who suffers from exercise-induced asthma, called in pollution experts to help her plan the Games marathon run. US triathlete Matt Reed has said the “this air (in Beijing) is terrible for your body.” In 2007, US triathletes in China wore masks just before competition making them look like "a gathering of Darth Vaders". A report in The New York Times said the US Olympic team will bring up to 1000 air pollution masks. Another stated that the British Olympic Association has commissioned scientists to develop high-tech breathing mask for its athletes.

Even if the greatest show on earth isn’t truncated, it may not see records in the endurance events, said IOC’s Medical Commission’s chairman Arne Ljungqvist.

Beijing has already spent nearly $17 billion trying to improve its environment and recently the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee said major pollutants in the air had come down since the city won the right to host the Games. But an American expert Steven Q Andrews said many of the statistical gains were achieved by moving the air quality monitors to less polluted areas of the Chinese capital.