SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The thick smog shrouding Singapore has led to the cancellation of the first night of finals at swimming's World Cup series on Saturday.
Concerned about the potential health dangers to competitors, swimming's world governing body FINA decided to cancel Saturday's finals, even though the pollution readings were still just below the levels they had set as the benchmark for continuing.
"Considering the guidelines and regulations suggested by NEA (Singapore's National Environment Agency), and the deteriorating haze situation today, we have decided to cancel the finals scheduled for this evening," FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu said in a statement.
"The schedule for tomorrow is still unchanged depending on weather condition."
FINA had already announced on Friday that it decided to cancel the longer distance events and had contingency plans to call off whole sessions if the pollution levels deteriorate.
Using the NEA's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings, which are taken at three-hour intervals, FINA said they would cancel races if the air quality exceeded 200, which is deemed to be in the "very unhealthy" range.
Saturday morning's heats went ahead as planned but the PSI readings rose throughout the day. Two hours before the start of the finals, they had climbed to 190, so FINA decided to cancel the night session.
"With the haze caused by the fires in Indonesia, the health and safety of all athletes, guests, officials, spectators, volunteers and staff remain as our top priority," said Ang Peng Wee, chairman of the organizing committee.
"Hence, with the deteriorating 3-hr PSI reading, we have made the decision to cancel the finals scheduled for 6pm this evening."
Singapore has been a regular stopover on swimming's annual global World Cup series since 2007 but has never had a session canceled before.
Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by farmers in neighboring Indonesia burning forests to clear their land for agriculture.
The fires have been exacerbated this year by the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, as a prolonged dry season in Indonesia has parched the top soil, fuelling the flames.
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty