Will Pollution, Humidity, Spoil Beijing Olympics?
After all, until the events begin, and athletic performance became the key story, there was really little to write about but problems or potential problems. In Los Angeles, it was the cost of the games, traffic and security that seemed to be the worst. We had people in this community who went so far as to suggest that the traffic would be so bad, people would actually leave their cars on the freeways and walk.
I never believed this, or went quite so far, and I was somewhat impressed by the assessment of 1984 Olympic security director Edgar Best, a former FBI agent who had been in charge of the Bureau's Los Angeles office, who contended that the terror attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics notwithstanding, there was not all that great a chance of any terror attack in Los Angeles. The Olympics, Best concluded, were not all that popular a target, since athletes from everywhere are participating in them, and most of the world's population supports the Games.
Well, as everyone knows, none of the problems developed in Los Angeles, and by the third day it was evident the Games were going to be a tremendous success. (But when I wrote that, I got balled out by Noel Greenwood, then the Times metro editor, who told me there was no cause at that point for all the optimism. As it turned out, however, I was right and Greenwood was wrong).
I write all this today, because Sunday we saw, in the New York Times, another one of these articles of gloom and doom about a forthcoming Olympics. This time it was the 2008 Beijing Games. Juliet Macur, writing from the world track and field championships at Osaka, Japan, about the adverse effect of the high humidity and 90 degree temperatures on the runners in the marathon, went on to speculate that Beijing would see more of the same next year.
Macur noted that in a visit to China this month, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, had said some Olympic events in Beijing might be postponed if the pollution that is common in that city put the athletes at risk.
When I read this, I took it with several large grains of salt. It is very common that IOC presidents go to an Olympic city in the time leading up to the Games and raise all sorts of concerns about how the preparations are going. This also happened with the Athens Games in 2004. Then, there were countless assessments that construction of facilities was proceeding too slowly, and the Games would not be ready in time.
But in the actual event, everything was ready.
The fact is that becauise of all the money committed to television rights for the Games, it is almost unthinkable that, barring some catastrophe, the IOC would delay anything. Even when the Israeli team was attacked in Munich, the IOC quickly decided to go ahead with the Games, as it did after the less significant bombing in Atlanta.
All that said, the climate in Beijing could well cause problems for the Olympics, just as the 1996 Games in Atlanta were impacted by the customary high humidity there. If the IOC were really interested in the well being of the athletes, above all, as it says it is, then it would avoid such cities when it was selecting sites for the Games. But the organization, out of hubris, and a desire to spread the Games to new locales, often ignores both climactic and political difficulties in deciding where to hold the Games.
Even in Los Angeles, Peter Ueberroth, the president of the organizing committee, decided to hold the marathon events early in the morning, so as to reduce the effect of heat on the athletes. And L.A. doesn't usually have humidity problems.
By the way, Chicago, the American candidate city for the 2016 Olympics, does frequently have high humidity, and, for that reason, may not be such a good Olympic site.
In some Games in the past, such as at Seoul in 1988, the Games were scheduled for September, when the biggest heat of the summer was apt to be past. Although that worked out well from a climactic point of view, it wasn't satisfactory to American television, which has pro football and the end of the baseball season going on in the same time frames in September, and wants the high summer as the time for the Olympics so as to avoid competition.
I have no doubt that the Beijing Games could have problems, if from nothing else than Chinese totalitarian politics. But, on the other hand, the Chinese, like the Russians in 1980 in Moscow have every incentive to be on their best behavior during the Games, when the whole world's attention is on them.
The Russians, worried about their food, imported much of what they served both the athletes and the press corps from Finland during the Games, and for the first time they opened direct telephone lines to the West, so one could dial calls rather than going through an operator. Then, if memory serves me, they didn't even bill for many of the calls.
The Macur article in the New York Times Sunday was in accord with time-honored pre-Olympic coverage. It conjured up a disaster, but I believe one is less likely than some might suppose.
Today's Page 1 article in the L.A. Times by David Streitfeld, "Blight Moves In After Foreclosure," points up the myriad consequences of the inability of the private financial institutions, or the public institutions that are supposed to regulate them, like the Federal Reserve Board, to prevent the kind of chaos we now see developing from the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. But one such consequence of Countryside excess and greed in giving money to the unqualified and then saddling them with loans impossible for them to pay off is more West Nile virus. It is spreading out of the vacant, unmaintained swimming pools of the newly dispossessed, which have become the spawning grounds of mosquitoes.