BEIJING—In an 11th-hour move that shocked the international athletic and political communities alike, the Chinese Olympic Team announced Wednesday that it will not be attending the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing due to "shocking, shameful, and ultimately dangerous environmental conditions" in the host city.
"Given the unconscionably bad environmental state of the area in and around the site of the 2008 Summer Games, we cannot in good conscience allow Chinese athletes to compete in China," said Olympic committee spokesman Sun Weide. "We deeply apologize to China for the bitter disappointment they will feel at not being represented in these Games. However, we place the blame squarely on China for their failure to prepare a suitable venue for international competition."
"Frankly, it seems to me that in terms of air quality, water purity, and general contamination, Beijing is barely even capable of supporting human life, let alone strenuous activities such as team sports, swimming, and long-distance running," added Weide, who has lived in Beijing all his life. "We can only hope our refusal to compete in this city will result in real change for its long-suffering residents."
Weide's sentiments were echoed by other high-ranking members of China's Olympic athletic community.
"China's Olympic athletic community should be deeply ashamed of itself," said Zhang Tianbai, deputy director of the PRC's Athletic Sciences and Education Department and director of China's Olympic Committee. "When factories have to be shut down for a month beforehand just to clear the air, when automobile traffic is artificially thinned to reduce smog, when thousands of uniformed men have to dredge the river mere days before the regatta, in a city that is supposed to be the pride of a nation and the athletic center of the world for two weeks—disgusting is not too strong a word."
Director Tianbai joined Li Furong, vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, in calling for the immediate resignation and possible indictment of the entire Chinese Olympic Committee.
The 639 athletes chosen to represent China were informed Wednesday night that they would not in fact be competing in Beijing. Although all were shocked at the suddenness of the decision, most took the news stoically.
"I was very much looking forward to making China proud," said 100-meter hurdling champion Liu Zhang, who had expected to defend his gold medal in Beijing. "But, if I am honest, China should be ashamed of itself."
"I shall regret this for the rest of my life, but I think the current conditions Beijing are currently worse than the ones I encounter in my polluted, petroleum-fume-choked home town," said Rockets center Yao Ming, easily the team's most prominent athlete. "Which is Beijing. Things have gotten even worse since I moved."
"It brings me great sorrow to say this, as I had hoped that Chinese athletes would return from Beijing triumphant, having demonstrated our nation's greatness on a global stage," Hu Jintao, president and paramount leader of the People's Republic of China. "However, China's blatant disregard for its responsibility to the basic health, welfare, and safety of its Olympic participants has forced us to withdraw China's athletes for their own protection, and I urge the Olympic teams of all other nations to do the same."
China's Olympic team will spend one last night in their Olympic quarters before returning Friday to Beijing, where they will resume training for next year's Pan-American Games.