Samaranch approves Beijing's environmental outlook for 2022

BEIJING — Snow-making for the 2022 Beijing Olympics won't bring lasting damage to the environment in the parched region of northern China, IOC vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch said Tuesday.

Samaranch told The Associated Press that Beijing's air and water quality are constantly improving and said he is "very confident and comfortable" with assurances on the environment from local organizers.

"You can see almost on a monthly basis the improvement in living conditions, in air quality and water quality," he said.

Samaranch also said the IOC will not address issues related to China's often-criticized human rights record.

Beijing and its environs generally get only a dusting of snow during the long, dry winter and Beijing will rely heavily on man-made snow for many Winter Olympic events. The Nordic events will be held in the Zhaolong ski area in neighboring Hebei province, which generally receives more natural snow cover.

Environmental concerns, particular Beijing's filthy winter air, were major concerns in the run-up to the city winning the contest to host the 2022 Games. However, efforts to reduce auto emissions and close or relocate heavily polluting factories have brought a noticeable improvement in the city's air quality.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party's record on human rights has also been a concern and China came in for heavy questioning at the United Nations Human Rights Commission this month, particularly over the internment of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in political indoctrination camps.

However, Samaranch said the IOC does not address such matters beyond ensuring the rights are protected "in the context of the Olympic Games."

"We cannot go further than that," he said. "Not here, not anywhere else. If we would start doing that we would be in serious trouble because there is always someone that doesn't like something that the other did. It's a very fine line and a very complex issue."

Beijing was awarded the games in 2015, defeating Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the voting to become the first city to have been awarded both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Beijing's urban center will host indoor events such as hockey and figure skating, largely in venues left over from the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Visiting as head of the IOC Coordination Commission, Samaranch gave high marks to Beijing's preparations for the games. Beijing Vice Mayor Zhang Jiandong said all venues and transport links for the games would be completed by the end of 2019, allowing the city to begin staging test events the next year.

"At this stage, you have done more than that could be expected. We feel very confident of what is going on," Samaranch said at the conclusion of his two-day visit.

The International Olympic Committee has added seven events to the 2022 Beijing Games, creating a program of 109 gold medals.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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