Not only is Yani Tseng’s (曾雅妮) ascent to the No. 1 spot in women’s golf a huge personal achievement for her, it has also brought pride and glory to Taiwan.
Tseng’s ranking is the result of her own hard work and the support of her family. The government had little, if anything, to do with it.
Western athletes rely on the backing of their families or professional associations and business sponsors. Very few governments get involved in the training of professional athletes, beyond rewarding the winners.
Many authoritarian countries, especially China, the former Soviet Union and the former communist bloc in Eastern Europe, invest or invested considerable resources into sports training programs, to help nurture world-class athletes. China has selected gifted children from a young age and sent them to special sports institutions where they are drilled for more than 12 hours a day. Life for them is nothing but sport.
Some countries tacitly link victory on the sports field to the promotion of nationalism. The victorious are seen as national heroes, and the losers as public enemy No. 1. That is not what the ethos underpinning sport is about. Such pressure has in the past led to athletes sustaining serious sports injuries, resorting to performance-enhancing drugs, developing psychological problems or even commiting suicide.
Tseng won her position at the pinnacle of women’s professional golf as a result of her own talent and hard work, coupled with the resources that are available in Taiwan.
Her achievement had nothing to do with forced state intervention or aggressive national training programs. Even more admirable is the fact that she turned down a huge Chinese sponsorship offer, which was made on condition she change her nationality to that of the People’s Republic of China and drop all other corporate sponsorships.
There have been calls for the government to provide incentives for world champions as is done in South Korea, but there really is no need for this. The success of an athlete should be determined by his or her personal volition, corporate sponsorship and support from professional associations. The government should content itself with offering prize money and awards and leave it at that. If it wants to help, it should work to create an environment that makes people want to pursue a sporting career.
In 2009 Tseng suggested the government should hold an international golf tournament similar to the ones she had just won in Australia. This would cost about NT$200 million (US$6.8 million), but it would be worth it for the international exposure it would bring. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration rejected the proposal, saying that the money could be used to hold 10 marathons.
The government, did say last September that an LPGA tournament would be held this year as part of the ROC’s centenary celebrations.
Given that the Ma administration has blown tens of billions of NT dollars on the Taipei International Flora Expo and mobilized government and social resources to do so, NT$200 million does not seem particularly expensive.
Ma’s flip-flopping on this issue is exasperating. It did not have to take responsibility for the tournament itself (or now claim credit), it could just have provided incentives for the business world to do so.