When Los Angeles won the 1984 Olympics, organizers encouraged Angelenos to change their driving habits for two reasons. One, they wanted to reduce the amount of congestion on the freeways, and in that they succeeded; alternative hours, home officing, and carpooling made commuting a breeze during the Games. They also wanted LA to rid itself of its notorious summer smog, with only modest success — but the LA air was pristine next to Beijing’s:
The area where the games will take place failed the government’s own smog targets, even as officials opened the Olympic Village with great fanfare.
The air was “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” the city’s environmental protection bureau said.
“Unhealthy for sensitive groups”? If the accompanying picture had come from Minnesota, we’d assume that it was taken during a mild snowstorm. I grew up in Los Angeles during the 1960s and ’70s, and we never saw air that bad all the way down to the ground. That’s unhealthy for anyone, and one has to wonder how the athletes will be able to compete, especially in the endurance events.
Some teams have decided to train elsewhere instead. The British, among others, won’t arrive in Beijing until just before the opening ceremonies. Other national teams have already arrived and will have to acclimate themselves to the heavily polluted air.
Officials hope that the wind will revive the air in Beijing next month and clear out the heavy smog. The IOC had better pray that it does. Otherwise, they may have to answer for their award to Beijing not just in regards to the prop it gives the oppressive Chinese government, but also for the risks it places on the physical health of the athletes.