SINGAPORE (AP) — Beijing's heavy pollution may hurt the performances of athletes in this summer's Olympic Games, although it will not endanger their health, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said Saturday.
The IOC in recent months has acknowledged the possibility that athletes' performances may be affected by China's pollution. But Chinese leaders have made repeated assurances that Beijing's notorious smog will be solved before the Olympic Games begin.
"The health of the athletes is absolutely not in any danger," Rogge said Saturday. "It might be that some will have to have a slightly reduced performance, but nothing will harm the health of the athletes. The IOC will take care of that."
Rogge was asked to comment on the decision by Haile Gebrselassie, the world's greatest distance runner, not to run the men's marathon in Beijing because of worries over pollution.
"Haile Gebrselassie is arguably the best long-distance runner of the present generation," Rogge said, adding however, the runner is "slightly asthmatic."
Rogge was not ruling out the possibility that Gebrselassie could change his mind nearer to the date.
"He decided so far — I'm saying so far because we don't know how things will evolve — not to participate in the marathon," he said. "I would say, wait and see ... when he sees the data that we are providing for them."
Rogge had previously said outdoor events in August's games could be delayed if the air quality was too poor.
Pollution — in addition to the violence in Tibet and other human rights issues — had been a major concern for China and the International Olympic Committee in the leadup to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics. Some athletes are reportedly considering wearing masks to ward off the bad air in Beijing, while many will delay their arrival in China's capital until the last possible moment.
The Tibet protests and other human rights issues had led activists to call for boycotts of the Beijing Olympics, and some high-ranking political leaders — including French President Nicolas Sarkozy — had said they may boycott the opening ceremony.
"We are not seeing a real momentum on boycotts by governments," Rogge said.
"There are talks about the potential boycotts of the opening ceremony.
"It is up to the heads of government to decide if they want to come to Beijing or not."
The early stages of the torch relay had attracted protests by activists, mostly concerned with Tibetan sovereignty, and more were expected as it traveled through western Europe and the United States.
"We are definitely not happy with the protests," Rogge said. "If people want to protest, we are for the freedom of speech and expression. They can protest as long as it is not violent."
Rogge said the IOC executive committee would meet April 10 to examine the latest report by human rights group Amnesty International, which was critical of China's lack of progress on such issues as detention without trial, repression of human right activists and Internet censorship.
Rogge and IOC executive board member Sergei Bubka traveled to Singapore to observe preparations for the first Youth Olympic Games to be held there in 2010. The Youth Games will feature about 3,200 athletes aged 14-18 competing in 26 sports.