Athletes’ health not in danger amid pollution worries in China


International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said pollution in Beijing will not endanger the health of athletes, although their performance might suffer.


“The health of the athletes is absolutely not in any danger,” Rogge said on Saturday. “It might be that some will have to have a slightly reduced performance, but nothing will harm the health of the athletes. The IOC will take care of that.”


Speaking at a forum in Singapore, Rogge was asked to comment on the decision by Haile Gebrselassie, the world’s greatest distance runner, not to run the men’s marathon in Beijing because of worries over pollution.


“Haile Gerbrselassie is arguably the best long-distance runner of the present generation,” Rogge said, adding however, that the runner is “slightly asthmatic.”


Rogge was not ruling out the possibility that Gebrselassie could change his mind nearer to the date.


“He decided so far – I’m saying so far because we don’t know how things will evolve – not to participate in the marathon,” he said. “I would say, wait and see ... when he sees the data that we are providing for them.”


Rogge had previously said outdoor events in August’s games could be delayed if the air quality was too poor.


Pollution – in addition to the violence in Tibet and other human rights issues – had been a major concern for China and the IOC in the leadup to the August 8-24 Olympics. Some athletes are reportedly considering wearing masks to ward off the bad air in Beijing, while many will delay their arrival in China’s capital until the last possible moment.


Rogge and IOC executive board member Sergei Bubka traveled to Singapore to observe preparations for the first Youth Olympic Games to be held there in 2010.


The Youth Games will feature about 3,200 athletes aged 14-18 competing in 26 sports.


Rogge said the Youth Games would encourage youngsters who were too attached to television sets and computers to be more active.


“We’ve seen a drop in physical fitness and a rise in obesity in most of the countries and this is one of the reasons ... why we created this Youth Olympic Games: to bring back young people to sport,” he said.


Singapore, with a games budget of $75 million (Dh275 million), will use 24 venues, including one large cluster for 13 sports. Nineteen of the venues already exist, four would be built as temporary facilities and one is under construction for equestrian.


The Southeast Asian city-state of 4.5 million people beat out Moscow in an IOC vote announced in February. (AP)