Rogge hails China's anti-smog efforts

Aug. 07, 2008, 7:48 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) China has done everything "humanly possible" to combat air pollution, and conditions will be fine for athletes to compete at the Beijing Games, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Thursday.

"The statistics are very clear," Rogge said a day before the opening of the games. "Pollution levels are coming down. It is not yet perfect. It is safe for the athletes."

Beijing's notorious smog has been a major concern in the buildup to the games, prompting China to pull half the city's 3.3 million vehicles off the road, halt major construction and close some factories.

"I think, objectively, we can say that the Chinese authorities have done everything that is feasible and humanly possible to solve the situation or to address the situation," Rogge said at a news conference at the close of a three-day IOC general assembly. "What they have done is extraordinary."

He said the anti-pollution measures would pay off for China in the long run, not just for the Olympics.

"These are not short term, one-shot measures," Rogge said. "These are going to continue and to have a lasting influence on the climate of Beijing and I'm sure that when you come back, if the Chinese have continued their efforts, they will be rewarded."

The IOC chief spoke as a light gray haze hung over the city for another day, but Rogge said "fog" and pollution were different.

"The fog you see is based on the basis of humidity and heat," he said. "It does not mean to say that this fog is the same as pollution. It can be pollution, but the fog doesn't mean necessarily that it is pollution. Of course, we prefer clean skies but the most important thing is the health of the athletes being protected."

Rogge reiterated that outdoor endurance events, such as the marathon, could be postponed or rescheduled if smog levels are too high. The IOC will monitor the air quality on an hourly basis at 21 reporting stations and receive 72-hour weather forecasts. The high temperatures and humidity could also be a factor during the games.

On other issues, Rogge confirmed that athletes from North and South Korea will not march together in Friday's opening ceremony, as they did at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics in a powerful symbol of reconciliation on the divided peninsula.

"Unfortunately the political powers - both on the South and the North - did not agree," he said. "And I regret this very much because this is a setback for peace and harmony and reunification."

The Beijing Games have been among the most politically contentious in history, attracting protests from pro-Tibet, human rights and press freedom groups. Rogge said the Olympics will allow China and the rest of the world to learn more about each other.

"I believe that the spotlight put by the Olympic Games on China will help both the world to understand China better and maybe for China to understand the world better," he said. "Is it going to be today? I don't know. Is it going to be at the moment of the closing ceremony? I think that this is something that will definitely extend beyond the closing of the games on the 24th of August."

Rogge repeated that athletes are free to express their political opinions during the games, but the Olympic Charter bans any political demonstrations or "propaganda" in the Olympic village, on the medal podium or other official sites.

The IOC will use "common sense" in dealing with any athletes who violate the rules, he said.

Meanwhile, Rogge said he was itching for the games to start after the seven-year buildup.

"I feel like the athlete who knows that he or she has done everything that was needed and what was possible before the competition," he said.

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Associated Press writer Paul Logothetis contributed to this report.

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