Wednesday, January 23, 2008

2008 Olympics Will Expose the Price of Growth

A recent NY Times about the Beijing smog discussed the concern of athletes about the impact of pollution on their ability to complete. The US team physiologist, Randy Wilber, is recommending that athletes where a mask to particulate filter as the Beijing air has pollutant 5x greater than WHO levels for safety. The marathon world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie has allergies, and the world’s No. 1 women’s tennis player Justine Henin has asthma.

I ran the Mumbai Marathon in 2007. I thought it would be exotic and kind of cool to run in the country where so much of our business was. The heat was one thing. The pollution was another. Even though Mumbai has oceanfront and the marathon was on a Sunday, it definitely had an impact on me as much time was 30 minutes slower than previous marathons. In addition my shoes had a clay like tint even though the streets were thoroughly clean.

The IOC should really think about where it stages the Olympics. Developing countries are great, especially since they provide hope and inspiration for the country's citizens. However, rapidly developing countries like China and India are willing to sacrifice the environment and their citizens' health for growth and prosperity. Remember the US clean-ups began in earnest as little as 40 years ago. Yet, that is no reason to sacrifice the health of athletes. As exciting as it is to have the Olympics in China, will it be worth watching great competitors ruin their health?

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