News reports this week about the Olympics have been dominated by the publication of the plan to keep half of Beijing’s cars off the road for the duration of the Games this summer. The objectives being to reduce congestion and improve air quality.
The NYT has picked up on this with an interesting interview with ‘the lead exercise physiologist for the United States Olympic Committee, Randy Wilber’. This is accompanied by a particularly interesting supplement which describes the influences on Beijing’s summer climate, as well as the possible effects poor quality air can have on athletes.
There is significant doubt over the possible success of the BOGOC’s plans to cut air pollution, as expressed separately by the NYT. This perhaps is not surprising, after the mixed results of the test carried out last August; “More than a million cars were taken off the roads for the four-day test period, but there was no improvement in the air quality, according to city officials” said the Guardian.
The test certainly reduced Beijing’s much maligned traffic, but impacts on the air quality were less clear. From the Guardian again; “The city’s Olympic organisers declared the test, which ends today, a success. Because there was no wind, they argued, pollution would have grown thicker without the special restrictions.”
Well, this August 1.65 million cars will be taken off the roads in Beijings. Should these measures herald blue skies; should the wild not lend a helping hand; Jacques Rouge, IOC President, has famously raised the possibility of events in “endurance sports like cycling” being postponed.
NYT raises this possibility with Randy Wilber, who is investigating rules over use of asthma inhalers, and even considering use of face masks. With tongue in check, the question is even posed about how athletes should prepare for the Games:
“Should I run behind a bus and breathe in the exhaust? Should I train on the highway during rush hour? Is there any way to acclimate myself to pollution?”
A little over the top perhaps?
The idea of athletes boycotting the Olympics because of the air quality is very sad, and is probably one that appeals to the Western media as an opportunity to show unusual concern with regard to the environment. Though the quality of the air during the Games is a very real concern, it seems unlikely that any athletes would jeopardise their Olympic dreams by staying away. The measures in place, are certainly not permanent solutions to Beijing’s problems, but it would be surprising if they did not fulfill their immediate objectives.