As the world turns its attention to the Summer Olympics in London, discussions have arisen about the nation’s efforts to boost its sports industry and foster younger athletes.
A total of 44 athletes from Taiwan will participate in 14 competitions in the Olympics, striving to deliver a better performance than at the 2008 Beijing Games, in which Taiwan earned only four bronze medals.
While Taiwanese are cheering their athletes at the Olympics, the Taipei City Government has been criticized for sending a delegation to the London Games with a budget of NT$2.48 million (US$82,000) to learn from the Olympics, given that the city will be the Summer Universiade in 2017.
The delegation, led by Taipei Deputy Mayor Timothy Ting (丁庭宇), will inspect 16 events, the facilities and overall management of the Games, including transportation, public security and the Athletes Village.
However, the delegation failed to obtain tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, which has sparked concerns about the usefulness of the 21-day inspection trip.
Putting aside the debate on how much the costly trip would help the city host the Universiade, an international sporting event for university students, the trip demonstrates the city government’s practice of dumping money into hosting big sports events.
The budget for the Universiade is more than NT$40 billion, with more than NT$1.23 billion allocated to advertising alone. In 2009, the city government hosted a smaller-scale international sporting event, the Deaflympics, with a budget of NT$5.9 billion.
The city government touted the success of the Deaflympics in raising the city’s international profile while promoting sports development, and seems to have developed an addiction to hosting international sporting events since then.
Earlier this month, the Taipei City Council approved the upgrade of Taipei’s Sports Office, which will be made a Sports Department next month and focus its efforts on hosting the Universiade and other sporting events.
The upgrade will cost the city government between NT$30 million and NT$40 million a year on personnel alone. With so much money and energy invested in hosting large-scale sporting events and creating a bigger bureaucracy, the city is giving little attention to sports education, the training of athletes and training facilities — fundamental issues that are crucial for sports development.
The central government has failed to do any better. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) did make a contribution by building 12 district sports centers around Taipei during his time as Taipei mayor. Last week, he announced that his administration would extend the policy and build 500 sports centers around the nation.
However, the overall environment for professional athletes or sports lovers is still rather unfriendly. The education system continues to stress academic achievements and places little emphasis on sports education, so many promising athletes give up pursuing sports at a young age.
There seems to be a misconception among government officials that hosting international games reflects the nation’s abilities in sports development. However, little progress has been made in terms of sports training, facilities and athletic development.
It is time for our government, from the center on down, to adopt a more practical approach. It is important to review the nation’s sports policy and strengthen sports education at schools. More money should be allotted to the improvement of both sports facilities and education.