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.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week