International Olympic Committee

Smog may delay Games events, IOC chief fears

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2007, 12:00am

Pollution warning by Rogge as one-year countdown starts

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge warned yesterday that Beijing's air pollution could force the postponement of some events at next year's Olympic Games.

The warning came as a raft of celebrations marking the one-year countdown to the opening of the Games sent Olympics fever to new heights in the capital.

'It [rescheduling] would not be necessary for all sports,' Dr Rogge said. 'But definitely the endurance sports like the cycling race, where you have to compete for six hours, these are examples of competitions that might be postponed or delayed to another day.

'We are going to put the athletes' health first. We'll have contingency plans in action.'

Dr Rogge's remarks, in an interview with CNN, came amid growing concerns over the possible impact on athletes' performance and health of the capital's air pollution.

Visitors, including some sports officials from around the world being briefed on Games preparations at a two-day meeting that ended yesterday afternoon, were not impressed by the smog shrouding Beijing.

'It's interesting to see the air pollution with my own eyes over the past week, 12 months before the Games kick off,' British Olympic Association chief executive Simon Clegg said. 'It's really an acute problem. But on the other hand, we have noticed the consciousness and efforts by organisers to tackle the issue.'

Banishing up to a third of Beijing's 3 million-plus cars from the streets during the Games next year was among the initiatives. Mr Clegg revealed that the measure would be given a trial run next week after weeks of discussion.

Li Zhanjun, of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, confirmed the trial plan but refused to go into further details before a press conference on the issue tomorrow.

Auspiciously, the hazy sky cleared up yesterday after intermittent showers on Tuesday, providing a crisp setting for the centrepiece celebration in Tiananmen Square last night, which capped more than 60 public events around the nation, including Hong Kong, to celebrate the one-year countdown milestone.

It was the biggest public gathering in the heart of the capital since the 1999 military parade marking the 50th anniversary of Communist Party rule.

About 10,000 officials and invited Beijing residents were entertained by performances by a phalanx of singers and dancers, including several Hong Kong celebrities led by Alan Tam Wing-lun and Jackie Chan.

An array of national leaders, led by National People's Congress chairman Wu Bangguo, took to the podium between the performances to address the crowd, reiterating Beijing's determination to stage the best-ever Olympics.

Beijing Party Secretary Liu Qi promised a safe sporting event. 'We will ... continually strengthen security measures, improve the city's environment and set a solid foundation for a high-level Olympics.'

Dr Rogge appeared at the square last night, hosting a ceremony inviting IOC member states to the Games.

But the show of solidarity could not eclipse growing controversy over the Games. This week overseas activists, US lawmakers and domestic dissidents have used the Olympics to tackle the central government on issues such as Tibet, political oppression, media freedom and Darfur.