Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Golfers don masks on fairways as smog chokes Beijing's big sporting weekend

By Tim Hume, CNN
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 0907 GMT (1707 HKT)
Germany's Sandra Gal was just one of the golfers spotted wearing masks to guard against air pollution at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing Sunday. Germany's Sandra Gal was just one of the golfers spotted wearing masks to guard against air pollution at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing Sunday.
HIDE CAPTION
The big choke
The big choke
The big choke
The big choke
The big choke
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Beijing's biggest sporting weekend of 2013 was marred by hazardous smog levels
  • Players at an LPGA tournament took to the fairways wearing surgical masks
  • Swedish tennis player Robert Lindstedt called the air quality "a disaster" and "a joke"
  • Event organizer David Shin says Beijing may struggle to continue to attract top talent

Hong Kong (CNN) -- International golfers were choking on the greens in Beijing over the weekend -- but it wasn't due to an outbreak of the yips.

Hazardous levels of pollution descended on the Chinese capital during its biggest sporting weekend of the year so far, affecting competitors and spectators alike at an LPGA golf event and the China Open tennis championship, which boasted such big names as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.

The sight of golfers wearing surgical-style face masks at the Reignwood LPGA Classic was hardly the advertisement that the sport was seeking for the first Ladies Professional Golf Association event to be held in China. Play was delayed for several hours Sunday to attempt to give the smog time to clear, before players including Germany's Sandra Gal and Colombia's Mariajo Uribe took to the fairways donning masks.

Spectators at tennis' China Open, where Djokovic triumphed in the men's final and Williams in the women's, were also photographed wearing protective face masks.

How much of your life disappears when you spend time here?
Swedish tennis player Robert Lindstedt on Beijing's smog

The pollution levels -- which saw visibility drop to less than 500 meters at times, according to China's National Meteorological Centre, and prompted the U.S. Embassy to advise its citizens to stay indoors and run air purifiers -- has led to questions being raised of the viability of international sporting fixtures in the northern Chinese city, or at least their continued ability to draw big names.

Swedish doubles player Robert Lindstedt remarked about the dire conditions in his blog, labeling the air quality "a disaster" and "a joke."

"How much of your life disappears when you spend time here?" he wrote. "Already after a few days I feel that I am not doing (too) good. I get dizzy when I get up. Yesterday I couldn't recover between points in practice and was breathing heavily the whole hour. If you blow your nose in the evening, the paper turns black. It's just not healthy to be here. I should probably think about that next year."

David Shin, director of Sporting Republic, a company that organizes sports events in Asia, said it was unlikely Beijing would be able to continue to attract big names at sporting events unless pollution issues were addressed.

"Beijing will always have big sporting events because they'll get the sponsorship and support from local government. But in terms of the caliber of the athletes -- the top athletes will have concerns about coming to Beijing. Regardless of their prize money and the lucrative offers they'll get to participate -- they'll have doubts about whether it will affect their health in the long term. If it does, is it worth coming?"

READ ALSO: Djokovic beats new No. 1 Nadal to retain China Open title

Lindstedt is not the first athlete to raise concerns about competing in Beijing's smog. In 2008, reigning marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie refused to contest the event at the Beijing Olympics due to fears of the impact on his asthma, saying to do so would be "committing suicide."

A year earlier, the women's tennis number one Justine Henin pulled out of the China Open in the city for the same reason, while in 2011, organizers at the event were forced to turn on floodlights in the afternoon to allow play to continue amid the heavy smog.

They'll have doubts about whether it will affect their health in the long term. If it does, is it worth coming?
David Shin, director of Sporting Republic

Shin, whose firm organized the Beijing Vertical Marathon up a skyscraper in August, said the capital's pollution levels were a particular concern for potential participants in running events in the city, and were among the reasons why the city's marathon, to be held later this month, would likely struggle to attract top-tier talent.

"When it comes to runners, pollution in the air really affects their performance. We have to advise them to actually just stay at the hotel and train in the gym," he said. "There are times when I've stayed at hotels in Beijing and haven't been able to see out the window."

The pollution issue meant the company had to give "serious thought" to running any sports events in the city. "As an event organizer safety is our first priority," he said. "Even if you have a few serious incidents where people have to go to hospital because of the pollution, then that makes it not worth doing."

The smog, which also grounded a number of international flights out of the capital, came at the end of China's October 1-7 "Golden Week" holiday, a peak travel time for Chinese families to travel. Six major highways were closed Sunday, exacerbating the problem.

Djokovic acknowledged the pollution issue after the event, saying it was less than ideal, but that players knew what they were dealing with.

The Reignwood LPGA Classic was won by one shot by China's Feng Shanshan, in her second career victory.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0545 GMT (1345 HKT)
Reforms to the grueling gaokao - the competitive college entrance examination - don't make the grade, says educator Jiang Xueqin.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)
Beijing grapples with reports from Iraq that a Chinese national fighting for ISIS has been captured.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT)
CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road; China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Beijing rules only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1942 GMT (0342 HKT)
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0410 GMT (1210 HKT)
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
ADVERTISEMENT