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?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living