New Zealand teams are planning a hit-and-run mission at October's Commonwealth Games in India, not because of security fears, but because of Delhi's high pollution.
A report by a leading sports scientist has warned New Zealand athletes to prepare offshore and fly to India as late as three days before their events, to minimise the effects of air pollution. Usually, athletes would spend a fortnight in the Games village before their events.
But, after visiting Delhi last October, New Zealand Academy of Sport performance physiologist Paul Laursen told national governing bodies they should instead prepare in Singapore, or alternatively in the Australian cities of Perth and Darwin.
"Beijing Olympics was considered pretty bad, so imagine almost two times that level of pollution in Delhi," Laursen told the Sunday Star-Times.
He said a recent report suggested pollution levels in Delhi of 144 ppm (parts per million) compared to 88 in Beijing. The city has more than four million vehicles and nearly half run on diesel, leading to high levels of carbon monoxide in the air. Forbes magazine recently rated Delhi the 24th dirtiest city in the world.
Laursen has investigated venues and facilities in Singapore, where Canada and Australia's Games' federations have already made bookings. Among individual athletes who plan to leave their arrival into Delhi late is star shotputter Valerie Vili, who is considering basing herself in Darwin.
"It's best not to arrive too soon," said Laursen. Singapore was chosen because it is slightly hotter than India, has relatively clean air, has direct flights to Auckland and Delhi, and is just a two-hour time change from Delhi.
Worst hit by the pollution will be endurance athletes competing outdoors. Laursen said he couldn't "even imagine" how competitors in the cycling road races would fare in such conditions.
Athletics New Zealand chief executive Scott Newman said the NZOC had been "very honest" in briefing sports about the issue, saying "we've got no problem" with individual athletes making their own travel plans.