Jacques Rogge asks why Ireland has not imposed restrictions on other travellers, as pressure mounts for a change of heart The president of the International Olympic Committee has criticised Ireland's decision to ban athletes from Sars-affected areas from next month's Special Olympics. Jacques Rogge questioned why the Irish government had not imposed similar travel restrictions on business people, students and tourists from areas hit by the virus. Hong Kong's organising committee for the Special Olympics is confident that the Irish government will make a U-turn in the next two weeks amid mounting pressure from sports associations around the world. The Special Olympics, held every four years, is open to athletes with mental disabilities. Dr Rogge's remarks came after Irish Health Minister Michael Martin said on Thursday that any athletes from a country that was on the World Health Organisation's list of Sars-infected areas with a local transmission 10 days before they arrived in Ireland would be asked not to attend. Mr Martin said earlier that an expert medical committee had concluded that the athletes and other officials from five Sars-affected regions posed too great a risk to the week-long competition, which is the world's biggest sports event for the mentally handicapped. More than 260 competitors, coaches and supporters from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines will be barred from attending the event in Dublin from June 21. Dr Rogge said on Saturday in Madrid that there was no reason to discriminate against athletes from countries affected by the virus. 'I don't know why a government would restrict the entry of athletes and still allow the entry of business people and other anonymous travellers,' he said. 'I would even say that athletes have far better health and far better immune systems than any other citizens, so I am surprised.' Fay Ho Kim-fai, national director of the Hong Kong Special Olympics, said she was encouraged by Dr Rogge's support for athletes from Sars-affected areas. 'I hope his timely support can help convince the Irish government to change its mind,' Ms Ho said. 'Both the Special Olympics International and Irish Special Olympics have urged the Irish government to reconsider its decision. I'm confident that the Irish authorities will give the green light in the next two weeks.' A spokesman for Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping said he welcomed Dr Rogge's remarks. Dr Ho has invited an Irish expert group to hold a video conference with Hong Kong's experts for an update of the disease situation. His invitation was extended to the head of the Irish expert group, Jim Kiely, via the Economic and Trade Office in Brussels and also via Ireland's honorary consul in Hong Kong. Dr Ho said the Irish authorities had not followed the advice of the World Health Organisation. The athletes from Sars-affected areas had agreed to go into quarantine for 10 days after travelling to Ireland as a precautionary measure. The Chinese team had planned to take 92 athletes and Hong Kong 44, along with a large delegation of coaches, officials and family and friends. They later offered to cut the numbers by half to ease Irish fears.