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March 11th, 2008:

Gebrselassie Skips Beijing Marathon But Bocog Remain Confident

Reuters in London – Updated on Mar 11, 2008

World record holder Haile Gebrselassie will aim for an Olympic marathon title at the 2012 London Games after deciding the pollution in Beijing this year represents an unacceptable health threat.

The twice Olympic 10,000 metres champion, who will be 39 in 2012, suffers from exercise-induced asthma and will not compete in Beijing unless he qualifies for the Ethiopian 10,000 team.

“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42 kilometres in my current condition,” he said.

Gebrselassie’s decision highlights the pollution problem in Beijing after International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said last year that the marathons or the cycling distance events could be rescheduled if conditions were too bad.

“We have made great efforts to battle pollution over the last 10 years and have made great progress in that, with air quality improving in each of the last nine years,” said Sun Weide, spokesman of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG).

“In addition, we have drawn up a contingency plan to ensure air quality at the Olympics which involves Beijing and the surrounding five provinces joining hands. We are very confident, therefore, that we will deliver good air quality at Games time.”

Dr Michal Krzyzanowski of the World Health Organisation has said the city’s poor air quality could trigger asthma attacks.

Gebrselassie’s manager Jos Hermens said the runner would attempt to qualify for the Beijing 10,000 in the Dutch town of Hengelo on May 24.

“His ideal picture was… for the next four years to try to break his own [marathon] world record and try to win in London 2012 because Beijing is very risky,” said Hermens. “I’m not a scientist but how can you train for pollution?”

Last year Britain’s women’s world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who also suffers from exercise-induced asthma, asked pollution experts to help her prepare for the Games.

Her husband and manager Gary Lough said Radcliffe might have to change her medication in China.

“She may have to adapt her doses or medication but, as long as we’ve done enough research and thought about it, it hopefully won’t be an issue,” he said. “There’s no point in us being especially concerned, because pollution’s not really something you can control.”

Belgian Justine Henin said she might not defend her tennis gold medal in Beijing after pulling out of the China Open in September because of asthma.

Hermens also pointed out that Olympic marathons were usually run in far from ideal conditions at the height of summer.

The 1900 Paris, 1904 St Louis and 1912 Stockholm marathons were run in sweltering heat and even the 1908 London event took place in temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius.

More recently, 39-year-old Swiss Gabriele Andersen-Scheiss collapsed over the line in the 1984 Los Angeles women’s marathon after weaving around the track before horrified spectators.

At the high-altitude 1968 Mexico City Olympics, world record holder Ron Clarke of Australia was unconscious for 10 minutes after finishing sixth in the 10,000 final. Clarke later suffered from heart problems.

Gebrselassie Opts Out Of Marathon

World record holder confirms he will not risk long-distance run in Beijing pollution

Updated on Mar 11, 2008 – SCMP

Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie confirmed yesterday he would not compete in the Olympic marathon because of fears that Beijing’s air pollution would damage his health.

The Ethiopian runner, who suffers from asthma, said he would still compete in the shorter 10,000 metres event in the August Games.

“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42km in my current condition,” he said.

“But I am not pulling out of the Olympic event in Beijing altogether. I plan to participate in the 10,000m event,” he added.

The Ethiopian ace’s agent, Jos Hermens, said: “He doesn’t want to put his career in danger and he still wants to run at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“His dream is to run in two hours and three minutes and to be the first to do that. It’s more important for him than to win another gold medal.”

Hermens said Gebrselassie (pictured) would first have to qualify for the Ethiopian team in the 10,000m. The team would be selected after the May 24 meeting in Hengelo. “I don’t know what he will do if he doesn’t qualify for the 10,000 metres,” he said.

Pollution is a major issue facing Beijing in the run-up to the Games.

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge said last year that events such as the marathon could be rescheduled if contingency measures did not have the desired effect. Gebrselassie called on China to deal with the problem, saying that pollution “would be a hazard to athletes, seriously affecting their performances”.

Dube Jillo, technical director of the Ethiopian Athletic Federation, said as far as his federation was concerned, Haile was expected to compete in the Olympics.

“But whether he runs in the marathon or 10,000m, for which he holds a world record, would be his own choice,” said Dube.

Rogge said in November that a monitoring system would be set up in Beijing to gauge whether air pollution warranted delaying events.

Events that involve endurance, such as the marathon or cycling distance races, could be delayed for a few hours or until another day, Rogge said.

“During a marathon for more than two hours, riding a bicycle race for five to six hours – that could be a hazard and then we would postpone the race,” he said.

Meanwhile, Athens Olympic women’s marathon gold medallist Mizuki Noguchi said yesterday she was ready to take on anyone as she was formally selected for Japan’s Olympic squad.

“There is no telling who will come out in the marathon. As usual, I see all the competitors as rivals,” the 29-year-old said.

About the prospects of a second straight Olympic gold, Noguchi said: “There are big expectations and I have dreams as well.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse

Officials’ Faustian Pact With Infrastructure

Markus Shaw – Updated on Mar 11, 2008 – SCMP

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s budget speech gives yet another insight into the mind of the administration and allows us to reflect on some interesting anomalies. Mr Tsang is at pains to stress fiscal discipline and the control of recurrent expenditure, especially in the context of the social welfare costs of an ageing population. He reiterates the administration’s commitment to non-interventionist small government. These objectives would be laudable were they not so inconsistently applied.

The anomalies are most starkly exposed when contrasting the administration’s miserliness in its support for the elderly, and the environment, with its sheer profligacy in infrastructure projects. On the one side we have agonised penny-counting, careful economic analysis and philosophical reflections on the perils of the welfare state; on the other, we have enormous sums poured into infrastructure projects with little or no cost-benefit analysis.

Expenditure on infrastructure, Mr Tsang said, “is the lowest in recent years”. The main reason is that “there are not enough major projects ready for implementation”. But this will increase in the years ahead and “will help create more job opportunities”.

Later in the speech, Mr Tsang again stressed the role of infrastructure projects in creating 27,000 new construction jobs and stimulating wage increases. Infrastructure projects as job-creation schemes: this is nothing less than “New Deal” welfarism in disguise. Small government it is not. These projects are characterised as capital spending, but nothing in the budget’s medium-term forecast over the next five financial years leads one to conclude that they are anything but recurring. The administration’s Faustian pact with infrastructure is every bit as unsustainable as runaway welfare payments.

No one disputes that a modern city needs infrastructure, but attitudes are changing in the 21st century: no city today needs “bridges to nowhere” (Stonecutters bridge) or “bridges to somewhere but just for cars and trucks, with no rail” (the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge).

The government continues to have a real problem with the environment. It might as well drop any pretence that it considers air pollution a high priority. The budget contains three environmental items: a concessionary duty rate on Euro-V diesel for two years; a first-registration tax concession on Euro-V commercial vehicles; and a 100 per cent profits-tax deduction for capital expenditure on environmentally friendly machinery and equipment in the first year of purchase. That’s it. Any other city of our wealth and sophistication would, by now, be treating our appalling air quality as a real emergency requiring urgent, wide-ranging policy initiatives and major financial commitment. Not so our government.

Mr Tsang has been praised in these pages for “effectively turning the city into `Hong Kong Inc’, sharing the profits with shareholders”. This is an inappropriate analogy; the government is not a company driven by the profit motive. A better analogy, and one used by many statesmen, is the simple household budget. When the household funds are flush, we don’t necessarily have to return them to the members of the family. Many in the community are saying: “I don’t need an electricity subsidy and rates rebate; please keep the money and do something about our air quality!”

Significant surpluses are forecast for the years leading up to 2013, whereupon our fiscal reserves will have ballooned to HK$723 billion. As a conservationist, I will be very disappointed if the government cannot find from this treasure chest the HK$550 million or so needed to solve our marine conservation crisis once and for all, or if it cannot seed a conservation trust with sufficient funds to provide an endowment for nature and heritage-conservation funding, independent of government control.

Markus Shaw is chairman of WWF Hong Kong

Incinerator Is A Major Polluter

Updated on Mar 11, 2008 – SCMP

I am writing to express my concern over the present environmental policy regarding waste treatment.

Waste and the disposal of waste is a long-term problem in Hong Kong, especially since our landfills are nearly saturated.

The possibility of having an incinerator has been discussed again.

Yet, is it the best solution to tackle the waste disposal problem, or will it actually be regressive?

Some argue that an incinerator will solve the problem caused by saturation of landfills. However, incineration causes serious air pollution as burning rubbish generates carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide as well as sulfur dioxide, which is carcinogenic.

I do not think an incinerator will solve our waste disposal problems. It will only create new headaches.

To ease the pressure on our landfills, the government should consider practical ways to ensure less waste is produced, rather than turn to incineration.

The government should raise a heavy levy on all waste, either domestic or industrial.

Such an idea has been touted for some time and it is time for the government to go ahead with it.

Once the government has implemented the higher waste charges, less waste will be produced and the pressure on our landfills will be reduced.

We need to come up with effective policies to reduce waste in Hong Kong and abandon plans to have an incinerator.

Tracy Lai, Kwun Tong