Olympic authorities face up to Beijing pollution problem

The sporting body which runs the Olympics has for the first time acknowledged that poor air quality in Beijing could damage the health of some of the athletes competing in next year's games.

While analysis of pollution levels suggests that most of those competing will not be affected, athletes taking part in long distance running and other endurance events could be at risk.

A ‘plan B’ has been drawn up for those events deemed high risk and monitoring of air quality and weather will take place up to the last minute, with the possibility of events being postponed if conditions are not up to scratch.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) believes that those putting in continuous physical effort outdoors for more than one hour are at the most risk. This includes marathon runners, urban road cyclists, mountain bikers, marathon swimmers, triathletes and road walkers.

Chairman of the IOC’s medical commission, Arne Ljungqvist, said: “As with all Olympic Games, we want to ensure that air quality risks are mitigated and that measures are put into place to protect the health of the athletes.

“The health and safety of the competing athletes is of the utmost importance. Analysis of air quality data to date indicates that the health of the vast majority of athletes competing in the 2008 Olympic Games will not be impaired.

“These findings are supported by this analysis, and by the fact that no health issues related to air quality were reported…by any team physicians looking after athletes who competed in the August 2007 test events.

“It may be that some events will not be conducted under optimal conditions – which is the reality of sports competitions – and that we may not see records broken in Beijing.

“However, the games are more about competing in the Olympic spirit, than about breaking records. For a few sports where we do see a possible risk, we will monitor the situation daily during games time, and take whatever decisions are needed at the time to ensure the athletes’ health is protected.

“The IOC is confident that measures already put in place, plus those planned by Beijing organisers and city authorities, will continue to improve the city’s air quality leading up to – and during – the Games.”

Sam Bond

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