The Most Sensitive Political Issue of the Beijing Olympics: Pollution

The notoriously toxic Beijing air is already a major story of the 2008 Olympics. Despite drastic measures already underway, the government is unlikely to be able to clean the air enough to satisfy athletes and tourists.

The air pollution issue is going to focus the world’s attention on the unbelievable environmental degradation happening in China. Of course, this is the last thing Chinese officials want. Notable excerpt from WSJ article yesterday: Olympic Athletes Wearing Masks Could Cause China to Lose Face.

U.S. triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker has a decision to make at the opening ceremony of the Olympics next month in Beijing: Should he strap on a mask?

Though the practice is less common today, Chinese for years have worn masks to protect their lungs from the country’s heavy dust and pollution. But foreigners wearing them during the Games this summer — particularly at the opening ceremony broadcast to billions of television viewers around the world? That’s a different matter.

Having foreigners cover their faces at the Olympics could mean a loss of face for the Chinese. “When you’re walking around with a mask on, you’re basically saying, ‘You guys stink,’ ” says Scott Schnitzspahn, performance director of the U.S. triathlon team.

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