Haze disrupts global swimming event

Above: Swimmers Emmabeth Jensen from New Zealand and James McKechnie from Australia leaving the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre after the evening finals were cancelled yesterday. The event, which ends today, features over 260 top swimmers from aroun
Above: Swimmers Emmabeth Jensen from New Zealand and James McKechnie from Australia leaving the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre after the evening finals were cancelled yesterday. ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Above: Swimmers Emmabeth Jensen from New Zealand and James McKechnie from Australia leaving the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre after the evening finals were cancelled yesterday. The event, which ends today, features over 260 top swimmers from aroun
The event, which ends today, features over 260 top swimmers from around the world. Right: Ticket-holders asking for refunds at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, an open-air facility, yesterday. The haze also forced the Sports Hub to close its water sports centre and Splash-N-Surf facilities.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

Evening finals in S'pore leg of star-studded Fina Swimming World Cup cancelled, disappointing both athletes and fans

The haze yesterday cost Singapore part of a star-studded international sporting event, one of the highlights of the Singapore swimming calendar. And similar haze conditions are expected to continue today, although there is a chance of relief depending on wind direction.

Organisers of the Singapore leg of the Fina Swimming World Cup yesterday decided to cancel the evening finals at the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre, an open-air facility. And that meant spectators who paid $25 for a day pass or $40 for a two-day season pass had to miss world-class clashes, such as the 200m backstroke final featuring American Olympic champion Missy Franklin and Australia's world champion Emily Seebohm.

Instead, the medals went to the three fastest swimmers in the morning heats, while spectators were informed that they could get a refund for the affected session.

The event, which ends today, features over 260 top swimmers from around the world as they try to qualify for next year's Olympics. Said Seebohm: "It's disappointing for us but nothing can be done. The health of the swimmers is important and I wouldn't want to risk my health."

Ms Felicia Ayling, a teacher who had bought tickets to yesterday's final for her daughter and herself, also spoke of her disappointment. "We've got tickets for tomorrow and we hope the haze clears up," added the 44-year-old.

The Singapore Swimming Association and world swimming body Fina, the organisers, said on Friday that races would be scrapped if the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was above 200 just before the start of each session.

With yesterday's reading increasing from 168 at 2pm to 190 by 4pm, they decided to cancel the 6pm evening session, which comprised 15 finals. The eventual three-hour PSI reading at 6pm was 242.

Fina executive director Cornel Marculescu, who apologised for the cancellation, said the decision was made after considering National Environment Agency (NEA) guidelines and yesterday's deteriorating haze situation. He said today's race programme, in which the heats are scheduled for 10am, and finals are set for 6pm, remains unchanged.

The haze also forced the Sports Hub to close its water sports centre and Splash-N-Surf facilities. It said on its Facebook page that all activities at its outdoor venues would stop if the three-hour PSI reading exceeds 200. If it rises above 300, all activities at the Hub would stop. Singtel TV and Fox television channel also called off a morning event at Marina Bay for around 1,500 fans of The Walking Dead series, ahead of its return next week.

Thursday's 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Singapore and Afghanistan at the National Stadium is also at risk.

A Football Association of Singapore spokesman said: "Should the haze in Singapore worsen considerably, a decision will be taken by Asian Football Confederation match officials on the most appropriate course of action in the best interests of all parties."

At 9pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was at 152 to 187 - well into the unhealthy range. Haze levels were worse in the afternoon, said the NEA, as haze from the surrounding region was blown in by the prevailing southerly winds.

Today, the haze levels are expected to be between the high end of the unhealthy range and the low end of the very unhealthy range (when the 24-hour PSI goes above 200). But with prevailing southerly winds forecast to shift gradually to blow from the south-east, the haze may drop to the mid-level of the unhealthy range.

•Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'Haze disrupts global swimming event'. Print Edition | Subscribe