Smog casts cloud over Olympic preparations

After a ten-day visit to China to help get ready for the 2008 Games, a Swiss Olympic delegation says it is generally impressed by preparations.

This content was published on August 17, 2007 - 12:42

But factors including air pollution have raised concerns among the Swiss 12 months ahead of the opening ceremony.

The head of the Swiss Olympic delegation, Werner Augsburger, was one of four Swiss representatives who took part in a series of meetings last week to prepare and discuss technical and logistical issues ahead of the Games.

Afterwards they toured Olympic sites in Beijing, Qingdao and Hong Kong, where test competitions are being organised.

"This is the third time that I've come here to prepare for the Games and I've been impressed every time," Augsburger told swissinfo.

However, air pollution remains a chief concern.

Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world – the World Bank says that 16 of the planet's 20 most-polluted cities are found in China.

Two years ago, the European Space Agency revealed the Chinese capital had seriously high levels of nitrogen dioxide.

"During the seminar, the Chinese organising committee promised improvements to the air quality," said Augsburger. "I hope they keep their promises as I can't see athletes doing a marathon in such conditions."

Olympic chief Jacques Rogge says air pollution could lead to some events at the 2008 Beijing Games being postponed if conditions are unhealthy. Some countries say their competitors will arrive in Beijing as late as possible to avoid exposure to pollution.

Long distances

Another issue for the Swiss delegation is the question of accreditation, which prevents Switzerland from having doctors on standby in the three Olympic villages where the Swiss will be present – Beijing, Qingdao and Hong Kong.

"The distances between the villages are huge. The delegations from each country present [200 countries] expressed their concerns to the organising committee which says it will seek solutions," explained Augsburger.

The Swiss will also be looking closely at questions of transport, accommodation and food over the next 12 months.

Swiss Olympic has set up a group to better evaluate the possible impact of heat, smog and jet lag on the 100 Swiss athletes who are due to take part next summer.

It has asked athletes to send them information on their weight, health, diet and performances, which will be analysed and included in a brochure for those travelling to China.

The information will help decide the number of days that athletes have to be present in China before the Games begin and if they need to take part in additional training in the country to help acclimatise.

Before returning to Switzerland, Augsburger and his colleague Thomas Burch travelled to Olympic sites in Hong Kong and Qingdao to check on preparations for test events.

"In Qingdao I really have the feeling that the competition events could start tomorrow," said Augsburger.

"As in Beijing, the Olympic spirit is felt everywhere you go – in the media as well as in the streets. One year before the opening ceremony, I've never seen a country so prepared to receive athletes."

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Mathias Froidevaux in Beijing and Qingdao

Key facts

Beijing has a population of around 15 million.
Financial investment related to the Olympics is estimated at SFr41 billion ($34.3 billion).
31 Olympic sites are being built for the 17-day event in August 2008.
Around 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries are to take part and more than 500,000 foreign visitors are expected in Beijing and six other host cities.
302 events are planned in 38 Olympic disciplines.
The Beijing organising committee is implementing a number of measures in a bid to cut pollution.
In total, they will spend SFr14.3 billion making environmental improvements, such as relocating factories, improving water treatment centres and updating the transport infrastructure. They recently decided to carry out an experimental three-day ban on cars in Beijing city centre.

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