FINA cancels opening day events

Singapore, October 3

Organisers on Saturday cancelled the first day of the Singapore leg of the FINA World Championships due to choking haze from agricultural fires on a nearby Indonesian island.

Heats were held in the morning but organisers scrapped the finals scheduled in the evening after Singapore’s air quality worsened from “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” levels. Fifteen events supposed to be held on Saturday evening at an open-air swimming complex were cancelled, organisers said in a statement.

Competitors include four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin of the United States, who was slated to make her competitive debut in Singapore for the 200m backstroke. Organisers said it was the first time that the Singapore leg of the FINA World Championships hsd been cancelled since the city-state hosted the competition in 2007.

“The level of haze in the venue overpassed the limit established by the Singapore government,” FINA said in a statement. It said the health of athletes, spectators and officials “is the top priority for FINA, therefore the events were cancelled”.

Organisers offered refunds for spectators who had already purchased tickets. The cancelled events will not be carried out on the second day of the competition on Sunday.

Competitors will use their best times recorded in Hong Kong, Beijing and the Singapore heats to decide on the payment of the prize money, the organisers said.

Organisers said Sunday’s races were officially on but they will further monitor the haze conditions and will cancel if the air quality remains above the Pollutant Standards Index threshold.

Malaysia, Singapore and large expanses of Indonesia have suffered for weeks from acrid smoke billowing from fires on plantations and peatlands that are being illegally cleared by burning on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The crisis grips the region nearly every year during the dry season, flaring diplomatic tensions among the neighbours as flights are grounded, schools close and pollution levels reach hazardous highs.