Smog over Beijing can't dim the Olympic spirit

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With three days to go, the tension – not to mention the temperature – is rising. Paul Newman reports from Beijing

Just three days to go and an oppressive haze hung over Beijing yesterday as Britain's athletes arrived in the city from their training camp in Macau. Temperatures reached a stifling 35C with the thick smog engulfing the city making it feel even hotter.

Organisers desperately hope the skies will clear by Friday night – midday in Britain – when the 2008 Games open at the Chinese capital's "Bird's Nest" stadium, with an anticipated global television audience of one billion people.

The issue of smog has been a controversial one since Beijing was awarded the Games in July 2001. China has set great store by hosting a successful event and, despite failing to meet pollution-busting targets two years ago, Chinese officials have made constant assurances that the smog will not be a major issue once the Games begin. However, those walking around the main venues yesterday found it hard to imagine that some of the 10,100 athletes would not suffer when competition gets under way.

Gerhard Heiberg, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board member, expects possible rescheduling to be discussed at the IOC's three-day general assembly starting today. "We are most concerned about the athletes," he said. "Yesterday was a wonderful day. [There had been four days of sunshine before yesterday]. Today, is it hazy? Is it pollution? I don't know at this stage."

In temporarily shutting down factories and taking cars off the road, the Chinese government has recognised the extent of the problem. Although there has been some congestion near the main stadium, the route from the airport to the Olympic sites was all but empty in the middle of the day yesterday.

The British Olympic Association's chef de mission Simon Clegg insisted the Beijing smog would have no adverse effect on the Games. "It's not a concern to us," he added. "The expert advice we are getting is that the situation continues to improve and the measures they put in place are still having a positive effect."

Ben Hawes, the British men's hockey captain, said the smog had had not affected his team's training. "It's mainly the heat and humidity," he said. "We have been training in Macau for a couple of weeks, where it was hotter and more humid, so hopefully by the time it comes to the matches we will be used to it."

Games officials said the hazy conditions had returned due to a lack of wind. "We hope it is fine on Friday," said a spokesman, Sun Weide. "That depends not only on human endeavour but on Mother Nature too."

While temperatures are expected to drop in the next few days, humidity will rise and rain is forecast for the end of the week.

There was better environmental news from Qingdao, the coastal city 450 miles south-east of Beijing. A clean-up operation involving 1,400 boats and 10,000 troops has helped to clear huge areas of algae that had threatened to affect thec sailing events. John Dane, an American sailor, said: "Yesterday we didn't see any algae. It's the cleanest day we have had."

Many hoteliers, however, have been disappointed by the lack of foreign visitors. Some hotels have cut their prices by half because of a lack of reservations, with potential visitors apparently put off by visa restrictions and bad publicity about China.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot