Among the travellers on a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau yesterday were 22 mentally disabled athletes who are completing preparations for the event of their lives. The trip is the beginning of a long journey to Ireland for the Special Olympics. It is a journey they had thought they would not be allowed to make. The decision by the Irish government on Saturday finally to lift what had effectively been a ban on athletes from Sars-affected areas attending the Games is a victory for fair play and common sense. It is also a credit to those in Hong Kong, Ireland, and elsewhere who battled on behalf of the athletes and did what they could to make the officials responsible for the ban see that it was wrong. The U-turn came at a late stage and only after intense lobbying against the ban, which had drawn widespread criticism around the world. Special Olympics President Timothy Shriver, for instance, pointed out the 'tragic irony' that the Games are dedicated to the proposition that those with mental disabilities deserve a fair and equal chance. While the reversal of the decision is to be welcomed as both rational and compassionate, it has come too late for another 22 members of the Hong Kong team who will miss out. The number of Hong Kong participants was reduced by half to appease the Irish authorities. Likewise, the trip to Macau is being undertaken so that those taking part can complete 10 days' self-imposed quarantine. All of this was unnecessary and runs counter to medical opinion. The Irish government's imposition of the ban, and its belated decision to lift it, reflect a bigger problem: the irrational fears which, perhaps understandably, arose when the global Sars outbreak began, continue to linger in some parts of the world. While the Special Olympics ban has gone, the fallout from Sars could still prevent Hong Kong's netball players participating in the world championships in Jamaica. A requirement they undergo 10 days' isolation before the competition in July is likely to rule out those who have commitments at work and are unable to take further leave. It is worth restating that the World Health Organisation disagrees with restrictions being placed on international travel by people from Sars-affected areas, unless they have symptoms of the disease or have been in contact with suspected victims. The Jamaican restriction is unwarranted. The threat posed by the global spread of Sars is serious, and countries must remain vigilant against further outbreaks. But the measures they adopt must be proportionate to the risk and in keeping with the recommendations of medical authorities. This applies not only to travel for sporting events, but to the free flow of tourists, businesspeople and conference delegates. The fightback from Sars will be all the quicker if common sense prevails.