Not Masking the Issue

August 6th, 2008

It was one helluva statement the U.S. Cycling Team made upon arrival in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics yesterday. One that quickly resulted in an apology.

Yes, the air quality sucks in China. It’s hit highs on the air pollution index that are way above what the World Health Organization recommends. And it can be dangerous to athletes and spectators alike according to a doctor at Johns Hopkins. Bikers and runners will have the greatest risk, so it’s completely understandable that they want to protect themselves.But wearing a black mask in the Beijing airport is a different story. There are two really obvious things they communicated with those masks – neither one of which is pleasant.

First, it is a slap in the face to the Chinese. Basically, the American cycling team is communicating, “This is a dangerous country. It is unclean and unsafe. We need to protect ourselves from the moment we step foot here.” Remember SARS? There were a lot of masks in airports then…

Second, there are some unintentional terrorist overtones to the masks themselves. We have all seen photos of terrorists with their mouths covered in dark fabric so we can’t see their faces. Unfortunately, these masks have a similar effect.

Are the cyclists going to struggle with the air quality at the 2008 Olympics? Looks that way. Might they have to wear masks to keep their lugs clear of particles in the air? Most likely. But at an already fragile Olympics, this wasn’t the best first impression for Americans in China. Perhaps they’ll be able to cover it up.

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