SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan (AP) – IOC president Jacques Rogge is optimistic China can improve its notoriously bad air before the Beijing Olympics.

Rogge said Saturday that Beijing is making big strides in cutting pollution, an issue of concern for both the International Olympic Committee and athletes.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rogge reiterated his stance that the IOC should not pressure China about human rights, and he praised the growing number of women who will compete in the Olympics.

Rogge previously warned that some endurance events at the Olympics might be postponed if the air quality is poor, but he hoped much of the pollution will be cleaned up when the games start in August.

“We will see that they have made major progress,” Rogge said at the Fourth IOC World Conference on Women and Sport.

Dozens of countries are basing training camps outside China, with athletes coming to Beijing just before their events begin. Some athletes, like marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie, have said they might not compete because of health concerns.

Rogge pointed to measures the Chinese are taking: switching from coal to gas energy, closing 10 percent of the nation’s gas stations, shutting polluting steel mills and planting millions of trees between the Gobi Desert and Beijing.

But Rogge again refused to comment on China’s human rights record – even though he has been urged to do so by Dutch Olympic swimming champion Pieter van den Hoogenband.

“We’re not a political organization,” Rogge said. “There are organizations that are far more knowledgeable and powerful than we are to move on the political front. We support the causes for the improvement of human rights, but the IOC is not the body to solve all the problems of the world. We are there to organize sport and we should stay within our role.”

The conference in Jordan focused on boosting women’s participation in the Olympics and other sports. Rogge said he was pleased that more female athletes than ever will compete in the Beijing. About 45 percent of the 10,500 participants – almost 5,000 – will be women.

“It’s much more than in the past,” Rogge said.

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