Politicians across party lines over the weekend came together in a rare moment of consensus to condemn the opponents of pension reform for blocking foreign athletes from entering the Taipei Municipal Stadium during the Summer Universiade opening ceremony on Saturday evening.
As a result of the protest, the “parade of nations” held in alphabetical order, during which athletes entered the stadium walking behind their national flags, was interrupted when it proceeded to the nations whose names began with the letter “C,” creating an awkward moment in front of a global audience as flag bearers marched with no teams behind them.
The athletes were finally let in in about an hour later to complete the parade to a cheering audience.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), whose party is sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, said he feels “they are going about it the wrong way.”
Even people from show business spoke up, with celebrities such as TV variety show host Jacky Wu (吳宗憲), members of girl group S.H.E and pop idol Aaron Yan (炎亞綸) expressing regret over the incident and voicing disapproval of the protesters’ actions.
The protesters had a political agenda, as they sought to vent their anger over the government’s pension reforms by targeting President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who was scheduled to welcome the athletes to the Games.
Taiwan is a democratic nation where people are free to express their views, and they have the right to voice their opinions regarding government policies, just as a number of civic groups did earlier on Saturday near the stadium by holding up banners and distributing “Republic of Taiwan” flags to passers-by.
However, freedom of expression should be exercised in a reasonable way; the protesters impeding the athletes’ freedom of movement were going overboard.
While the protesters might have wanted to embarrass Tsai or the Democratic Progressive Party government, they ended up embarrassing the entire nation in front of a global audience — and they also lost the support of some members of the public who might have harbored sympathy for their cause.
The Universiade, also known as the World University Games, which are held every two years, this year welcomes more than 7,700 young athletes from 141 nations. It is the biggest international sporting event the nation has hosted since the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung.
Hosting such an event helps the nation boost its international visibility, allowing it to undertake a new role in international sports. It also showcases to the world Taiwan’s cultural wealth and diversity, as well as the enthusiasm of its athletes and volunteers at the Games.
Saturday’s disruption of the opening ceremony was indeed regrettable, but there might be a silver lining to it. While the protesters might have caused a momentous embarrassment for the nation, they also proved that Taiwan is a real democracy, despite the immature way the protesters opted to express their opinion.
Foreign athletes participating in the Games might be confused as to why Taiwan is taking part in the event under the name “Chinese Taipei,” but the incident underlined the distinction between Taiwan and China and showed the world that Taiwan is not a part of China, which is ruled by a communist regime that restricts the freedom of expression.
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