“Lu who?” was the response from many Western news anchors as they reported on Tuesday that little-known Taiwanese tennis player Lu Yen-hsun (盧彥勳) had defeated fifth-seeded Andy Roddick of the US in the fourth round of the men’s singles at Wimbledon.
Although Lu was crushed the following day by third-seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, his achievement was no less remarkable for that. Despite being an unseeded player with a world ranking of 82, Lu managed to defeat Roddick, the world No. 7. By reaching the quarter-finals he not only made Taiwan proud but went further than any other Asian player in a grand slam tournament since 1995.
With the fans reveling in Lu’s success and extensive media coverage, it is surely only a matter of time before the government sends out a congratulatory telegraph and arranges a meeting with this new “pride of Taiwan” when he returns home.
Of course, all of this bluster about the importance of sports will die down very quickly, once again leaving the nation’s struggling athletes on their own as they strive to make a name for themselves in the arena of international sports.
A closer look at Lu’s road to success thus far is an indication of just how little the government helps to support the nation’s promising professional athletes.
For a start, the NT$1.5 million (US$46,600) annual subsidy Lu had received under the former Democratic Progressive Party government was scrapped when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) came to power in 2008.
Unlike many of his counterparts from other countries, who often have an entourage of coaches, trainers and assistants, Lu has only his family to help.
To help pay for airfares and other expenses when traveling for tournaments and training, he solicits funds by having an account for charitable donations listed on his Web site. Lacking adequate practice venues, Lu is forced to rent facilities and, rather than receiving professional therapy from an experienced trainer, his mom doubles as a masseuse.
When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected in May 2008, many hoped that he would revitalize sport in Taiwan, given that he himself is an avid jogger and swimmer. Sadly, the president’s interest appears limited to those two activities, as evidenced by the Ministry of Education’s plan to appropriate NT$3.9 billion to build 50 new school pools and turn 50 existing cold-water pools into heated ones.
The Sports Affairs Council has often cited its tight budget to excuse its failure to support the nation’s professional athletes. The truth, however, is that if the government really wanted to help, there are many things it could do short of funding. For example, it could provide tax incentives to encourage corporate sponsorship for athletes. It could also invite internationally renowned sports stars to Taiwan to host training camps or beef up the nation’s infrastructure, so that athletes with international aspirations actually have somewhere to train.
Rather than offering genuine assistance or developing a real policy, the government instead prefers to jump on the bandwagon after the event. When will it learn that it is simply not acceptable to try and steal the thunder of the nation’s athletes, who earn through their own efforts every accolade they receive?
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