olympic party.jpg[UPDATED] cares about air quality are nothing new in the history of the Olympics. The choice of Mexico City to host the 1968 Olympics was disastrous for many athletes because of Mexico DF's high altitude and rarefied air.

Forty years on, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, has admitted China's pollution problems are so severe that some events at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing may have to be postponed.

The embarrassing admission coincided with the jamboree (pictured) in Tiananmen Square that China organised to celebrate the one-year countdown to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Just as happened in Mexico, the main problem is for athletes competing in endurance events like cycling and so the IOC says these types of event may get postponed if air pollution is really bad.

BOCOG, China's Olympics organising committee, continues to maintain that Beijing's notoriously polluted air is a non-issue and it takes comfort from the words of athletes like Howard Back, a badminton player picked for the US Olympic team. Xinhua quotes Back saying:

I live in Los Angeles, and it's not very good there in air. I also spend a lot of time in Colorado Springs, where I enjoy very clean air. It's a game for everybody and we are competing in the same air.”

Nevertheless, with the eyes of the world watching Beijing next summer BOCOG hopes to minimise pollution by restricting vehicle traffic for the duration of the games. The measures fall hardest on Beijing's huge fleet of official vehicles and are modelled on the restrictions put in place for the China-Africa summit last November which proved such a success.

Back then, Beijing residents were blessed with “blue skies all week, and hardly a car on the road in central Beijing, except for taxis,” writes Richard Spencer, the Daily Telegraph's Beijing-based correspondent.

China has been working to make Beijing a greener city ahead of the games, which is dubbed the “Green Olympics”, with new technologies being used for transportation, power supply, water and waste management, Xinhua, China's official government-run news agency, reports.

The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement the city plans to have 100 hybrid-electric buses and several hundred electric vehicles in use at all Olympic venues. See this EngagingChina story for more on plans to cut car use during the games.

Additionally, around a quarter of the power supplied to the venues will come from renewable sources.

Its not just the Olympics organising committee hoping for blue skies. Beijing's business community — Chinese and western — is hoping that the Olympics will provide a stimulus to the local economy that will remain long after the games have gone.

For example, hotel chain Marriott is opening two new hotels in Beijing before the end of the year and has three more in construction. When the Olympic games begins, Marriott alone will have added 2,800 new rooms to the Beijing market.

To feed the crowds, McDonald's is also building four more restaurants in Beijing, two in the Olympic village for athletes and media and two retail outlets.

Nevertheless, once the games are over and the temporary traffic restrictions relaxed, it will be interesting to see if Beijing is capable of implementing an effective long-term plan to tackle air pollution, which has become so bad that city officials fear it is discouraging foreign investors from locating to the capital.

UPDATE: Up to 1.3m vehicles will be taken off Beijing's streets starting next week in a dry-run of the city's ability to clean its dirty air for next year's Olympics. During the four-day test, which starts August 17, cars with even- and odd-numbered plates will be allowed on the roads on alternate days.

This crude system has been used for many years in the cities of northern Italy when weather conditions get too bad, but its effectiveness is limited because of the large number of exemptions and two-car households. Its disappointing that Beijing couldn't have come up with a more effective hi-tech solution to its growing traffic problems. More on Beijing's pollution woes in these stories.


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