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Tue 18 Mar 2008 02:58 AM

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Smog could force Beijing event delays

IOC creates panel to recommend postponement of events in case of heavy pollution.

The International Olympic Committee said Monday that it would set up a special panel to recommend the postponement of events at the Beijing Olympics in case of heavy pollution.

IOC Medical Commission chairman, Arne Ljungqvist, announcing the IOC's own analysis of air quality data for Beijing, said that the body would be formed with representatives from his commission and from sports federations.

"We have to have a mechanism in place to provide the coordination commission with the facts," he said, referring to the IOC commission that would issue the decision.

Ljungqvist said that Olympic events had been postponed before, but never because of pollution.

"This is the first time that air pollution has become an issue and we have taken the issue seriously," he said.

"We have conducted this analysis in order to be prepared to be able to take an action should facts arise which suggest we postpone an event."

Beijing is one of the world's most polluted cities and athletes and officials have expressed concern about poor air quality during the August 8-24 Games.

Four independent scientists conducted the analysis for the IOC using data provided by the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau that was collected between August 8-29 last year, a comparable period to the August Games, Ljungqvist said.

He said the data turned out better than he expected and he believed the Olympics would be free from pollution worries.

"My feeling is and my conclusion is we will probably face heat and humidity being the major issue rather than pollution in the air," he said.

Those most likely to suffer from pollution were marathon runners, cyclists, long-distance race walkers and others engaged in endurance events, he said.

"But it is not so much a health risk... The risk is more related to the fact that they may not perform at the best level," he said.

However, athletes suffering from respiratory problems such as asthma may suffer more, particularly in Beijing's high temperatures and high humidity.

Haile Gebrselassie, an asthma sufferer, said last week he planned to skip the Olympic marathon because of pollution worries.

"It is a private decision that he has taken and he will have to explain," said Ljungqvist. "I would not say that his decision should be the gold standard for others."

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