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August 9th, 2008:

Why So Afraid To Offend China?

Updated on Aug 09, 2008 – SCMP

Achim Steiner (“Beijing green efforts are clear for all to see”, August 7) is correct when he stated that at the Los Angeles Olympics there was concern with pollution as at Atlanta, Seoul, Athens and Barcelona.

The major differences with the Beijing Olympics is that in the US there was widespread criticism and much debate over how bad it was for the athletes.

What we see in Beijing is a worldwide desire not to offend the authorities lest they throw a tantrum. A case in point was when US cyclists Mike Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed wore masks when they arrived in Beijing. Despite their having concerns over the air quality, the four later issued a public apology as if their action was perceived as a slight to the Chinese people.

We have seen this far too much of late: that the world is scared of offending China. Why?

The nation, like any other, can only grow if it learns from its mistakes. China will only be respected on the world stage when it comes to terms with fair but honest criticism.

Stephen Anderson, Macau

It’s Welcome To The Smoglympics

Polluted air, sweltering heat and high humidity have Beijing in a sweat

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 09, 2008

Beijingers sweated under smog, sweltering summer heat and sapping humidity on the opening day of the Olympics, further dimming hopes of clear skies for the Games.

Last-minute efforts to cut pollution in recent weeks – pulling half the city’s 3.3 million cars off the road, halting construction and closing factories – appeared to have done little to help the authorities breathe easier and clear the city’s smog-plagued air in time for the opening extravaganza.

The city did not have the same luck as on the same day last year, when the sun finally broke through the choking smog and a clear skyline emerged in the afternoon.

There was more embarrassment yesterday when organisers of the event once billed as China’s coming out party urged residents to give outdoor celebrations a miss because of security concerns and sweeping road traffic bans.

With the city centre cordoned off from early morning, the strictest restrictions in years on vehicle use in force and shops and cinemas told to close early, fewer people – and cars – than usual were on the roads.

The authorities were apparently caught in a dilemma over whether to try to manage the weather.

Rain showers were forecast for about two hours before the start of the opening ceremony at 8pm. While environmental officials hoped for rain to disperse the smog, ceremony organisers, including director Zhang Yimou , had said showers would be their biggest worry.

Officials said they were fully prepared to use cloud-seeding to disperse rain clouds in order to ensure a dry opening ceremony.

It was equally unclear whether the authorities were ready to cope with tens of thousands of people gathering around the National Stadium to celebrate. The evacuation plans which have been made public relate only to the 90,000 spectators in the stadium and the more than 70,000 volunteers and other service staff in the Olympic Village.

Since its bid for the Games seven years ago, Beijing has promised to meet its own and the World Health Organisation’s air quality standards during the 16 days of competition. But environmental group Greenpeace and mainland environmental experts said Beijing’s air quality and its air measuring infrastructure fell far short of WHO standards.

The air pollution index yesterday was within a range from 51 to 100, which is classified as moderate, but the PM10 reading – measuring the concentration of pollutant particles of 10 microns or more – was 94, just two below Thursday’s reading of 96, which was the highest in 10 days.

The high PM10 readings – showing high levels of dust from construction sites and soot from chimneys and vehicle exhaust – prompted fresh concerns over the hazards to health Beijing’s poor air quality may pose to athletes, especially those in endurance sports such as the marathon.

The city has spent at least 150 billion yuan (HK$170 billion) in the past 10 years to repair the damage caused to the capital’s environment by three decades of rapid economic growth. And Games organisers have said the capital’s air quality is usually best in August. In the past three Augusts, the PM10 reading has been above 100 on only four days, according to Du Shaozhong , deputy director of Beijing’s environmental bureau.

But the stagnant weather this week – with relative humidity of up to 90 per cent and little rain or wind – threatens to negate all efforts to clean up the air in time for the athletes.

Air Has Riders On Tenterhooks

Road racers fear smog will make a tough course even more gruelling

Martin Zhou and Agence France-Presse – Updated on Aug 09, 2008

Organisers have repeatedly issued assurances to Olympians about the air quality over the past year and more. But the cyclists who will set off today in the road race, the first outdoor endurance event of the Games, remained uncertain exactly what they will be up against in terms of conditions.

The daunting six-hour men’s race – which will feature many of the sport’s leading names – and three-hour women’s race are both held on a punishing 248.5km road course, which starts in Tiananmen and ends at the foot of the Great Wall. The final sprint involves a steep climb and subsequent descent sections, which many riders feel is one of the toughest they have seen.

The demanding nature of the route is sure to be aggravated by the capital’s extreme humidity, heat and, particularly, the smog.

“We’ve been given masks to wear if we choose to wear them,” said Julian Dean, a New Zealand road cyclist. “It’s going to be challenging, without a doubt. Nobody is looking forward to it, but everybody has to cope with it.” Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau, repeated his routine dismissal of air quality concerns yesterday.

“During rainy and foggy weather visibility is not good,” said Du, referring to the hazy skyline that shrouded the capital yesterday. “But this doesn’t mean the air quality is not good.”

The air quality index readings from Du’s agency were just within the national safety standard, although still short of the WHO benchmark. It forecast a similar reading today. But the cyclists were not fully convinced.

“I know the pollution, combined with heat and humidity, is going to be a huge problem,” said Lieselot Decroix, a Belgian rider. “But as athletes, we can do very little about it.”

Asked whether she liked the landscape in the suburban section of the course, Decroix replied: “I think the landscape is really nice but I couldn’t see it. I could only see, say, 50 metres.”

American Christian Vande Velde who saw part of the Great Wall yesterday was impressed by the structure but still concerned about air quality. “It was amazing,” said Vande Velde. “I just wish the visibility was a little better.”

“It’s nasty out there, for sure,” said Vande Velde, who is hoping to claim a medal in the men’s time trial next week. Experts warned before the Games that endurance events could be postponed in the event of adverse conditions, although so far the road race is on.

“It’s a very hard course, very draining and the climb is about half an hour in length,” said Stuart O’Grady, one of the Australian team.

“We were just sweating incredible amounts. I have been in more humid conditions. But if it’s hot here, it will be tough.”

Compatriot Cadel Evans, who just two weeks ago finished runner-up for the second consecutive year on the Tour de France, was pulling no punches about the race conditions following his final official training session.

“It is no big surprise to me as I was here last year, but it is more humid, the air is thicker and more polluted and the oxygen density is very low,” said the 31-year-old climber and time trial specialist.

In the heat of Athens in 2004, only 75 of 144 rider finished the men’s race – and many riders say it could be even fewer this time.