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China's Emergency Pollution Plan

Olympics Emergency Air Plan: Is Wearing a Mask an Insult?

Traffic restrictions started in Beijing over the weekend in a frantic effort to try and improve the city's air quality before the start of the Games. By only allowing vehicles with odd-numbered license plates into the city on alternating days with evens, officials hope the halving of traffic will take 60 percent of the city's 3.3 million cars off the roads and reduce emissions by two-thirds.

Though the atmospheric throat-clearing is all about getting gussied up for company, locals are loving the effect. One mom said, "it's great — today there are far fewer cars on the road and the air quality is so nice. This is good for the children." With 1,000 new cars hitting Beijing streets every day the measures are herculean in one of the world's most congested cities.

Not limited to cars, construction and factories have also been quashed, making it clear that the bid for cleaner air is wholly temporary — once the rings come down, it's business as usual. For now, an extra 4 million people are expected to smush their way onto public transportation — claustrophobes, stay out of China.

Though the plan seems to be helping a little, all of this effort still might not be enough — and the stars of the show, the athletes, are grappling with a crisis of manners over performance. To see how,


The US Olympic Committee is distributing an ultrasecret, high-tech mask to all of its 600 Olympians, sparking questions of propriety. If athletes strap on the masks, especially to high-profile events like the opening ceremonies, they are saying to their hosts, "you stink."

Though the Chinese themselves have used masks to protect their lungs, do the athletes have an obligation to suck it up and suffer, to avoid broadcasting to all that the air in China, ahem, sucks? The British team also has a mask — and theirs can be worn during competition, which of course brings up all kinds of fairness questions.

Manners aside, I'm struck by the larger implication that a giant country exists on our planet where the air isn't fit to breathe. And if the world was a restaurant, just because you pick the nonsmoking section, doesn't mean you won't leave smelling like a rat.

Should athletes wear the masks to make a broader ecological point? Will keeping silent do more harm in the long-run, than good?


seraphimm seraphimm 9 years
Absolutely appalling and dis-GUST-ING. NOW the committee realizes that they've made shit decisions? Give me a break. In 2003 I visited Beijing for a tour around Asia. Our whole tour group couldn't stand the smog and had to cut the trip to 2 days (from 2 weeks). I can't even imagine how much it has to have worsened in 5 years. I've been to many countries around the world, but never before have I had to gasp for dear life (Oxygen no where to be found.) the moment I stepped out into Beijing and run back inside the airport. It was a nightmare. The worst 2 days of my life. I hope to dear God those poor athletes don't have sudden asthma attacks or develop lung problems.
HeatherFeather HeatherFeather 9 years
are you EFFING kidding me? "in a frantic effort to try and improve the city's air quality before the start of the Games. " No wonder they are frantic if they only just started paying attention to the smog in Beijing this year. I agree with most other commenters that the IOC never should have choosen China to host the Olymipcs, however, they did so 8 years ago as a "carrot" or incentive to get China to open its markets, improve its human rights record and clean up the enviornment. That means the Chinese have had EIGHT years to get their s**t together and the pollution out of their air and they still haven't done it? They deserve to be insulted.
aydiosmio aydiosmio 9 years
The Chinese tell tourists they're having a very "foggy" day instead of saying its smog. I say the Olympians should all be given masks that they can use during competition. They have kept themselves as healthy as possible up to this point. No sense in having them pollute their lungs just because they are in China. Also, I recommend to you all:
frogandprince frogandprince 9 years
Honestly, I'm not too concerned with the political reasons people have for not wanting the Olympics in China, and all those protests. But the point of the Olympics is to engage in SPORTS and it makes me wonder why the Olympic committee chose a host city that cannot guarantee the quality of their air. I think athletes should be allowed to wear air masks like the British. It would be fair to everyonce, since only ONE team wearing a mask puts the other teams at a disadvantage when they breathe polluted air.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I hear they had to shorten the marathon to 100yds because the athletes can't run that long in such bad air quality.
True-Song True-Song 9 years
Did other countries or cities come under the same kind of fire China has? A lot of people seem upset they got the Olympics. I can't remember if that was the case in other years.
Brendelwoman Brendelwoman 9 years
Yeah, I am wondering as well why China was picked if the air is this bad.
rabidmoon rabidmoon 9 years
Heh, no way in hell would I leave a mask off. If the air is THAT BAD, and I am an athlete depending on oxygen for part of my performance you can bet I would do whatever I have to, to maintain my health, for my benefit, for the benefit of my performance and for the benefit of my country's overall results. Athletes should be free from having to feel "Bad" about this crap. And you know what? They have had years to think about this. They knew the air was dirty before this thing ever what, people are just supposed to forget about the pollution now? What is the point of hiding it, its such b.s.
Eilonwy Eilonwy 9 years
The country is currently bearing witness to significant incidences of asthmatic and alternate respiratory disorders. It is an extremely serious situation, physiologically. I find it slightly misguided to attribute any 'ecological point' to the wearing of masks. That would hardly have any influence on the world's primary emerging market and their industrial pollutants. The issue is the health of the athletes, which should respond to the environmental circumstances, not the perceived sensitivities of the Olympic host nation.
em113 em113 9 years
I agree with giggilygirl. There is a reason people wear masks, China should have never been picked for the olympics if air quality was an issue. Quite frankly I don't care if it's rude, olympians's bodies are their livelihood, they should do whatever they have to do to be able to stay healthy and compete at their highest levels.
stephley stephley 9 years
I hope the Olympic Committee is paying attention to all the downsides that have come with giving Beijing the Games and learning something.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 9 years
I agree to torgleson. I can't see why it would be considered rude to want to remain healthy, especially as an Olympic level athlete. I also have to agree with GigglyGirl. Politics aside, the air quality alone should've been enough to discourage holding the Olympics in China.
GigglyGirl GigglyGirl 9 years
Just one more reason why China should NEVER EVER have been given the Olympics. This whole thing makes my blood boil, seriously.
True-Song True-Song 9 years
I certainly wouldn't compromise my health or my shot at an Olympic medal for fear of seeming rude. They know what their air is like. It's not like they're wearing latex gloves to shake hands!
Bksuga Bksuga 9 years
woohooo first..but i dont see why they shoudnt be allowed to wear the masks. the people there wear them. But then again it may look bad on tv for the people comepeting to be wearing masks? kinda on the fence on this one
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