Is China too Dirty for the Olympics?

Last night China presented a dazzling display of fireworks and acrobatics to a crowd of 10,000 people as part of the official welcoming ceremony for next year’s Olympic games to be hosted in Beijing. Held in Tiananmen Square, notorious for the 1989 tragedy when troops brutally crushed pro-democracy demonstrations with huge loss of life, the ceremony has not allayed fears in the international press about the country’s fitness to host the games.

Smog over Beijing, a notoriously polluted city

China has already been subject to scrutiny over human rights issues and freedom of the press. Critics claim it has failed to live up to promises of press freedom made when they were awarded the Games in 2001, and recently concerns have also been raised over pollution levels at the Games, which could adversely affect athletes’ performance and health. The country has a bad track record on environmental issues (over the last few months there have been a number of scares over contamination in products produced or processed in China), and the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has said that some competitions might have to be moved if continuing efforts by organisers to clean up the city’s notoriously smoggy air were unsuccessful.

Billions have been spent in an attempt to reduce pollution in Beijing, without success. Many factories have been closed or moved elsewhere, but the rapid rate of construction in the city contributes to its smog problem. Wang Junyan, the director of cycling events for the games, assured reporters that the events would go ahead, adding that “Rogge’s comment reminds us that we have to work harder to fix environmental problems.”

We can only hope the international pressure of the Olympics convinces the country to clean its act up.