Olympics chief repeats pollution warning

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am

Dirty air will mean delays in events

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge yesterday repeated drastic plans to reschedule some of the 2008 Beijing Games events because of pollution.

Speaking at the opening of the 7th World Sport and the Environment Conference in Beijing, Dr Rogge said the competition would be disrupted to ensure the health of athletes was 'scrupulously protected'.

'We know that Beijing 2008 has to tackle important environmental issues. These problems are linked to the impressive development in China,' he told the international delegates, which included Liu Qi , Beijing Party Secretary and president of Games organisers Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Bocog), Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan and senior members of the United Nations.

The Olympic Games had brought many problems to the surface, Dr Rogge said - and he praised Beijing for its enormous effort in cleaning up its notoriously poor air quality.

But, he said, despite all the measures, 'time is running out' and the conditions during the Games might not be met '100 per cent on a given day'.

Dr Rogge then left the conference to attend the Indoor Asian Games in Macau.

The three-day summit will discuss how sport can have a positive impact on the world's environment and help combat global warming.

Earlier, the International Olympic Commission said there remained a glaring gap as to how Beijing's choking pollution would be monitored to ensure athletes' safety.

At a press conference obsessed with Beijing's notorious smog at the end of a recent co-ordination meeting, Bocog and the IOC appeared to be at odds as to how the air would be measured next August, and what safety mechanisms would be followed.

IOC's co-ordination committee member Gilbert Felli said: 'The air quality contingency plans ... will be comprehensive and guarantee safe air quality as they did at test events.' He added any measuring of the air during Games time would use international standards, such as those followed by the World Health Organisation.

But there remains a glaring gap between the WHO air-quality measurements for highly damaging ozone and toxic particulate matter levels, and those environmental laws used by China, which are based on old WHO standards.

The WHO upgraded its measuring system in 2005 - but Beijing insisted it should stick to the levels stipulated in 2001 when China made the Olympic bid.

And the difference is likely to worry many of the 10,000 athletes, especially those competing in outside endurance events such as the marathon, triathlon and road cycling.

Excessive exposure to ozone - a gas resulting from the mixture of emissions from industrial facilities, vehicle exhaust fumes and fuel vapours in the presence of sunlight - can cause breathing problems for average people who are at street level, according to the WHO's findings.

International medical experts say air-borne particles are so small they seep into deep parts of athletes' lungs where there is not the same level of protection as there would be in the upper part of the respiratory system.

Vice-executive director of Bocog, Jiang Xiaoyu , attempted - along with his IOC peers - to quell the ceaseless media questions over pollution fears.

After leaving the press call podium, however, he admitted that although Bocog was working closely with the IOC to clear the skies before the world's biggest sporting event begins, matters over air quality measurements were 'out of the Bocog's hands'.

'China has its own environment laws, which are etched as standards in legal statues. It requires the involvement of a wide spectrum of government agencies and the legislature to modify these measures,' he said, indicating it would take a great deal of political will over the next 10 months to bring the mainland's pollution ratings in line with international standards.

'We will leave it to the panel of experts both from our side and the IOC side. I'm confident that they will address the issue properly,' added Mr Jiang.

Chairman of the IOC co-ordination committee, Hein Verbruggen, said it was 'insulting' to suggest the Olympics would be staged without the use of international air-quality testing.

He ruled out speculation in the French press that some events would be moved out of Beijing if the air proved too dangerous. '[Such a move] has been totally excluded,' he said.

Lifting the fog

Earlier this year the capital exercised a partial ban on vehicles

According to scientists the ban cut Beijing's air pollution by: 20%