Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on August 6, 2008
Not exactly the nicest way to show thanks to your hosts: According to this story from Reuters, six members of the U.S. Olympic cycling team arrived at the Beijing airport yesterday “wearing respiratory masks, apparently concerned over reports of unhealthy levels of air pollution in Beijing.” Certainly Beijing has a serious pollution problem. But face masks in the airport? Because there’s so much smog in the air-conditioned terminal? Really?
The poor spokeswoman for the cycling team, Andrea Smith, had to do some damage control for the one-fingered salute. “I don’t believe there was any statement trying to be made,” she told Reuters. Sure. Unfortunately for the Chinese government and the IOC, the cyclists aren’t going to be the only athletes donning masks like these in the next few weeks. Pictures of Olympians wearing face masks in the Beijing airport, around the Olympic Village or on their way to or from the venues might prompt a strong online backlash from offended Chinese. This could quickly get ugly.