Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), acknowledged yesterday that Beijing's air pollution could force the postponement of outdoor events during next year's Olympics.
"Yes, this is an option," Rogge told CNN in a brief interview. "It would not be necessary for all sports, sports with short durations would not be a problem. But definitely the endurance sports like the cycling race where you have to compete for six hours, these are examples of competitions that might be postponed or delayed to another day."
The statement from Rogge came just hours before Beijing was to celebrate the one-year mark in the countdown for next year's opening ceremony. A party in Tiananmen Square to celebrate the moment was to be attended by 10,000 people, including Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Wang Junyan, director of the cycling events at the Beijing Olympics, said race schedules had already been decided and that it would be difficult to make any changes.
"Rogge's comment reminds us that we have to work harder to fix environmental problems," she said.
Beijing's filthy air and clogged traffic have worried Beijing organizers and the IOC, but this was Rogge's strongest statement on the subject and was sure to embarrass local organizers.
Beijing officials have spent billions of dollars closing factories and moving others out of town, but nonstop construction and booming car sales have made air quality even worse.
Beijing Olympic organizing officials refused to comment on Rogge's statement. The media relations office said rules prevented spokesmen from answering questions over the telephone.
Chinese officials have been eager to spread good news about the country's fevered preparations, with government agencies announcing Olympics-related achievements, from meeting tree-planting goals to setting up a network to monitor potential disease outbreaks.
State media reports yesterday said Beijing was stepping up power grid construction projects to ensure a stable electricity supply during the Olympics. Other plans call for environmentally friendly hybrid-electric buses at Olympic venues. Organizers have also launched an information hot line with operators who speak Chinese and English.