SBD/Issue 124/Olympics

IOC Admits Beijing Pollution Could Affect Health, Performance

IOC Acknowledges Beijing's Air Pollution May
Affect Health, Performance Of Olympic Athletes
The IOC acknowledged for the first time that "air pollution could affect the health and performance of athletes" at this summer's Beijing Olympic Games, according to a front-page piece by Amy Shipley of the WASHINGTON POST. The IOC also said it "would monitor air quality daily during the Games to determine whether to postpone certain outdoor events." Shipley writes the IOC's "unexpectedly frank announcement ... seemed to signal that some athletes and officials have lost faith that the Chinese will adequately address Beijing's air-quality problem in time" for the Games. IOC Medical Commission Chair Arne Ljungqvist: "The findings indicate that there may be some risk for outdoor endurance events." But Ljungqvist noted the "risk (for most athletes) is more related to the fact they may not perform at the highest level." Ljungqvist added that during the Games, IOC medical commission members and int'l sports federations "will jointly decide each morning whether it was safe to proceed with scheduled endurance events," including the marathon and triathlon. Shipley notes since Beijing in '01 won the rights to host this summer's Olympics, Chinese officials have spent almost $17B to "clean the air, but the city remains under a gray cloud on many days and athletes frequently complain about competing in choking conditions." USOC Senior Sport Physiologist Randy Wilber said,  "We are very confident ... that air pollution will not be an issue. However, as we have done for every Olympic Games whether there is air pollution or not, we will have backup plans and contingencies in place in case of any problems" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/18).

CLEARING THE AIR? Ljungqvist said of the air-pollution study, "This to my knowledge is the first time in sports history we are conducting an analysis like the one we have been conducting. Air pollution has not been an issue until this time. But we have been in polluted places earlier without paying attention or making any analysis at all." Ljungqvist noted that World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines will be used to judge pollution, heat and humidity, and added that "any postponement would be explained openly." WHO has said that "some pollution levels in [Beijing] are five times over the group's safety level" (AP, 3/18). Univ. of Hong Kong department of community medicine Chair Anthony Hedley: "There's no magic wand you can wave and suddenly reliably change the quality of air in a region. But there is a very real risk that the health of some athletes will be impaired" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/18). Ljungqvist also said that asthmatic athletes are "likely to suffer more than most" (London TELEGRAPH, 3/18). British Olympic Association Chair Colin Moynihan said that British Olympians "would be free to train" with an anti-pollution mask though there is "'no intention' to allow them in competition." Moynihan: "We are increasingly confident that the improved air quality will mean masks are unnecessary, but it is up to the individual athletes and their sporting federations if they want to wear them in competition" (LONDON TIMES, 3/18).

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