EDITORIAL: Nation’s athletes should be cherished

Tue, Sep 04, 2018 - Page 8

Taiwan delivered an outstanding performance in the Asian Games in Indonesia that ended on Sunday, exceeding the targeted goal of 10 gold medals set by the Sports Administration by garnering 17 gold, 19 silver and 31 bronze medals, finishing in seventh place on the medals table.

Aside from awarding over NT$350 million (US$11.4 million) to the medal-winning athletes in line with the Guo Guang Athletic Medals and Scholarships (國光體育獎章及獎助學金頒發辦法) program, the government — honoring a pledge made by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Aug. 10 that she would have an F-16 jet escort the athletes home if the team won 16 gold medals or more — last night dispatched two fighter jets to accompany the plane bringing home the last batch of Taiwanese athletes as soon as the plane entered the nation’s air defense identification zone.

The team — which regrettably competed under the name “Chinese Taipei” — did the nation proud and lifted the spirits of Taiwanese by winning the second-most gold medals in the nation’s sports history, after 19 gold medals at the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998.

Members of the team will soon likely receive invitations from various politicians to attend meetings and pose for photographs as the latter eye winning seats in November’s local elections.

However, politicians’ eagerness to latch on to the medal-winning athletes’ popularity and fame for their own media exposure or to claim credit will soon die down, leaving the athletes out in the cold.

As government officials and politicians rejoice with the athletes over the latter’s success in the international sports arena, what matters is that they continue to pay just as much attention, if not more, to the athletes and their well-being after the frenzy over the Games fades.

While offering bigger cash prizes and having fighter jets stage a welcome can encourage the nation’s athletes to pursue excellence, the government needs to do more if it is sincere about boosting the sports industry and cultivating talent.

The truth is that Taiwan has an unfriendly environment for professional athletes, with slow progress in terms of training, quality facilities and athletic development.

Reports of athletes or teams lacking adequate facilities or the money to attend major international tournaments are all too frequent. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, members of the Taiwanese delegation had to buy their own food, including instant noodles, whereas the South Korean and Japanese teams had numerous chefs attending to their athletes.

At least this time around the government sent chefs and nutritionists with the team, as well as deciding at the last minute to grant the athletes’ request to rent an apartment near the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium to save them from long commutes so that they could have enough time to rest and prepare for the competitions.

The public will be looking forward to the nation’s athletes bringing home more medals from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and other international events. As the athletes work hard to succeed in their respective fields, hopefully the government and politicians can truly cherish the athletes who fight for the nation’s honor internationally, and take action to improve their training programs and the nation’s sports facilities.