Table tennis players Chuang Chih-yuan (莊智淵) and Chen Chien-an (陳建安) became the latest embodiments of “Taiwan glory” with their historic win last week over Chinese rivals in the men’s doubles category at the World Table Tennis Championships. While sharing the excitement of the victory, they called for more government support for sports.
The plea sounded all too familiar, as we hear it over and over again whenever Taiwanese athletes win medals and shine on the international stage. For example, when Taiwanese tennis player Lu Yen-hsun (盧彥勳) defeated then-world No. 7 Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2010 and surged to international stardom, his brother told reporters that Lu had to seek sponsorship on his own, and he urged the government to do more to cultivate the nation’s athletes.
Thirty-two-year-old Chuang, who lost a chance at the bronze medal in last year’s London Olympics, has been lucky to have Taiwan Cooperative Bank as his long-term sponsor. However, he is still worried about money, and seeking more sponsorships.
Chuang wants to finance a table tennis center he and his family built in 2008, to serve as both a personal training center for Chuang and a venue to cultivate young players.
The Chuang family has already invested more than NT$100 million (US$3.35 million) in the three-story center in Greater Kaohsiung, and is still paying off a NT$20 million loan.
When Hon Hai Precision Industry Co said last week that it would like to sponsor Chuang, Chuang and his mother, Lee Kuei-mei (李貴美), a former professional table tennis player, said they would use the financial support to train younger players at the center, preparing them to participate in local and international table tennis competitions.
While Hon Hai has yet to reveal its sponsorship plan, a Taiwanese businessman surnamed Wang (王) last week gave Chuang and Chen a NT$3 million check after learning that the Sports Affairs Council awarded them only NT$900,000 each in prize money.
The council said the amount was reduced from NT$3 million after the table tennis doubles-category was removed from the Olympic Games in 2008, and it had no plans to revert back to the higher sum.
Chuang’s example is a painful reminder of the government’s failure to build a sound sports environment. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has described himself as an avid sports lover and touted his efforts at promoting sports, should be ashamed of his administration’s neglect of sports development, leaving the nation’s talented athletes to struggle on their own.
Chuang, Lu and many other talented Taiwanese only became top-tier athletes thanks to years of largely self-financed training under the guidance of foreign coaches or their own families. The government played little role in creating their success, and should stop trying to gain credit for their fame.
Cultivating athletes and creating more “Taiwan glory” is a responsibility of the government. The council should improve the nation’s sports environment, focus on finding talented athletes when they are young and invest more in training.
Rewards for medal winners should be used as an incentive to encourage athletes to pursue excellence and compete for the nation’s glory.
Improving sports facilities and promoting our sports culture from the grassroots level are also crucial in building a better environment to nourish athletes.