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Beijing Pollution A Shocker

Coach: Beijing pollution ‘a shocker …just awful’

5:00AM Saturday June 28, 2008 – The New Zealand Herald – By Terry Maddaford

Pollution levels in Beijing are so high that the Black Sticks women’s hockey team plan a change to their itinerary, delaying their arrival in the Olympic city until the last-possible minute.

And the concern spreads wider than hockey, with other Olympians warned by Athens Games triathlon gold medallist Hamish Carter that the conditions could affect performances.

National women’s hockey coach Kevin Towns, just back from watching the New Zealanders finish a commendable third in a four-team warm-up tournament in the Chinese capital, did not attempt to hide his concerns. “Frankly, the conditions in Beijing were pretty awful,” said Towns. “The atmosphere was a shocker. In the time we were there we had one day of blue sky – and that was the rest day. It is very, very bad.

“When I was there as an observer at the site visit in 2007 we were assured things would `be right on the day’. But they are struggling. Organisers plan to shut factories down and order vehicles off the road in the days leading up to and then during the Games but there will still be crap in the air.

Beijing has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of seven megacities around the globe with three or more pollutants exceeding WHO health protection guidelines.

Towns said it was planned that he and his team would be in Hong Kong from July 19 to 30 for a match against Great Britain and others against either the Hong Kong women or their under-20 men.

“We are then scheduled to fly to Beijing, go into the Games Village and play four games at the tournament venue. I have real concerns at this stage about spending that much time there.”

Hockey New Zealand chief executive Ramesh Patel conceded that “from a health point of view there have to be concerns”.

“Certainly it is a worry. But from a competitive point of view, it is the same for every team,” said Patel. “We have had regular meetings with Sparc and the National Olympic Committee at which this has been discussed. Certainly, we will raise it again.

“Possibly the team could stay longer in Hong Kong but my preference is to get them to Beijing as scheduled and get the distractions the Olympics bring out of the way.”

Patel said, unlike the New Zealand soccer teams who would be based away from Beijing, he expected the two hockey teams to be part of the opening ceremony especially as they had a full day (women) and two-day (men) break before their first matches.

Carter, who would be in Beijing as one of the 105-strong official party who would accompany the New Zealand team, said the conditions would “throw another variable” at the competitors. “I haven’t competed in Beijing but I remember a race we had in downtown Paris where some of the guys couldn’t breathe properly and were struggling with their asthma,” said Carter. “You can throw as much science you like at it but that is no guarantee you can fix the problem.

NZ Olympic Committee secretary general Barry Maister is confident the situation will be carefully monitored. “We will all have reservations until the day arrives,” said Maister. “But we can only be guided by what the IOC are telling us. They insist athletes’ interests are paramount and that if pollution levels reach an unacceptable level they will postpone or even cancel events.

“The Chinese, we can be sure, will not want to lose face by having events cancelled.

“I’m as confident as I can be but without being super-confident. I have been in Beijing when you can’t see across the road. I’m not trying to downplay the situation but it is hard to fathom what causes the atmosphere to go from blue to shitty so quickly.”

Herald chief sports writer David Leggat and senior journalist Eugene Bingham will be reporting from Beijing throughout the Games. Award-winning photographer Kenny Rodger joins the team.


– The city has spent nearly $17 billion on anti-pollution measures such as moving factories, adding subway lines, upgrading boilers and converting coal-heated homes to electric.

– The Government has ordered work stoppages at construction sites, chemical plants, cement manufacturers and mines by July 20.

– On July 20 another regulation kicks in that will allow vehicles on the road only on odd or even days, depending on their licence plate numbers.

– The city will also ban spray painting and crack down on printing, furniture production and motor vehicle repair outlets that don’t meet city standards.

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