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Air quality is a major concern - Olympic official

Updated: 2007-05-17 09:08

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- A Chinese official helping Beijing host its first Olympics said Wednesday one of his biggest concerns was air quality in a city notorious for brown skies.

"The environment I should mention as one of the major concerns for us and also for the athletes," Wang Wei, secretary general of the committee organizing the 2008 Beijing Games, told a conference sponsored by the Asia Society of Southern California.

"We want to make sure the athletes have the best air quality," he said.

Wang said air quality was improving -- from 100 "good air quality days" in 1998 to 241 such days last year.

The Games represent a coming out party for a nation that has turned decades of stagnation into a jaw-dropping resurgence.

The Games begin Aug. 8, 2008, and offer huge economic and cultural opportunities.

An estimated 500,000 foreign visitors are expected to cram Beijing and billions more will visit China through television coverage.

For the hosts, it's a chance to showcase a nation that's becoming a dominant economy and a political player.

With its long view of history, China sees itself returning to an accustomed role as a world power. The nation also has been investing heavily in athletics -- a golden haul of medals, after all, is a matter of national pride.

Wang promised freedom for foreign reporters who will flock to China and cover not just sports but its rapidly changing social and economic conditions.

"There won't be any limitations for their travel, for their reporting," he said.

He also promised a well-mannered host city -- as he put it a "sound social atmosphere" that visitors sometimes have found lacking in years past.

He cited public education campaigns on standing in line, and not spitting or littering.

There's also a campaign to educate Chinese about how to watch sports they may not know well. Do not clap or yell, Wang pointed out, when someone is about to take a shot from a rifle.