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Japan’s Athletes May Wear Masks

Reuters – Updated on Jul 30, 2008

Japanese athletes may wear masks made for construction workers to cope with air pollution during the Beijing Olympics, a doctor affiliated with the Japanese Olympic Committee has said.

An increasing number of international athletes are considering wearing face masks for the Games despite official promises of clearer skies in Beijing and warnings that pictures of masked competitors could embarrass the hosts.

“Our previous research shows the amount of dust in the air is high in Beijing and that may affect some of the Japanese athletes,” committee medical adviser Takao Akama said yesterday.

Marathon runners and cyclists might not be the only ones using the masks. “Some athletes are sensitive, so we have decided to have those pollution masks ready for any member of the Japanese Olympic team who would like to use one,” said Dr Akama, who works at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Koken, the company that makes the masks, has supplied the committee with 500 industrial-strength units. Japan’s team has almost 600 members.

Beijing’s air pollution, a sometimes acrid mix of construction dust, vehicle exhaust and factory and power-plant fumes, has been one of the biggest worries for Games organisers.

Yesterday, state media quoted Beijing authorities as saying sauna-like weather trapping smog in the host city would not last throughout next month. Officials have repeatedly said there is no need for athletes to bring masks.

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