Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Let the games begin

By hosting the 2007 IWAS International Wheelchair and Amputee World Games, local disabled athletes hope to raise the profile of disabled sports in Taiwan

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

Participants of the 2007 IWAS World Wheelchair and Amputee Games. The Chinese Taipei Paralympic Committee has been championing disabled sports since 1984 and hopes the games will boost the profile of disabled sports in Taiwan.

PHOTOS: COURTESY OF CTPC

It was a life-altering event.

Lai Fou-hwan (賴復寰) was looking forward to a long career playing basketball and handball when his dreams were cut short in 1979 after a car accident left him with only one leg. But the current secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Paralympic Committee (CTPC, 中華台北殘障體育運動總會) says he looks back at the accident without anger or regret as his disability led him to become one of Taiwan's key spokespersons for athletes with disabilities.

His efforts, along with those of many others, have paid off as Taiwan was chosen to host the 2007 IWAS World Wheelchair and Amputee Games, which began this week in Taipei. Over 800 athletes from 40 countries are competing in eight different categories, seven of which are regional or international qualifiers for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, at venues across the capital.

Learning to live with his disability, Lai said, couldn't have happened without the support of his family - especially his wife.

"It's all because of her," he said, pointing to his wife Chen Lee-chou (陳李綢), CTPC president. "Without her, I wouldn't be here today."

Speaking of his own experience as an amputee and a previous competitor in disabled competitions - his sports are discus, javelin and shot put - Lai sees Taiwan's limited venues and resources as obstacles to drawing athletes with disabilities into the sports arena.

The CTPC was established in 1984 under the name Chinese Taipei Sports Organization for the Disabled. It changed name in 1998. Today, the CTPC has nine full-time employees and 30 volunteers. Lai estimates there are roughly 1,500 disabled athletes in Taiwan - double the number three years ago - who compete in domestic games held every two years.

In the beginning, however, promoting sport for persons with a disability in Taiwan was problematic. A lack of funding for sports in general and disabled sports in particular, coupled with scant media interest, meant that few venues were available for disabled athletes to use.

Recently, however, the CTPC has fostered relations with many non-disabled sport associations, which means that training fields and facilities are placed at disabled athletes' disposal and assistance and specialist equipment are available when needed. The 2002 IPC Table Tennis World Championships held in Taipei, stimulated considerable media attention with television and print media covering the event.

"Funding for disabled athletes in the form of sponsorships or grants is also an issue as the majority of athletes has to work full-time jobs between practicing for competitions," Lai said.

The CTPC has been trying to turn the situation around by providing athletes with grants.

The National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has also stepped up to the plate by providing grants to athletes based on the number of medals an athlete wins at either the Paralympic Games or World Championships. For each gold, silver or bronze medal, the athlete receives a financial award. However, the amount pales in comparison to that given to able-bodied athletes.

"Disabled athletes who win gold receive NT$2.4 million," said Andy Yao (姚韋如) of the CTPC. "But athletes without disabilities who win gold receive about NT$12 million."

"And the coaches don't get paid," said Chen.

The CTPC's goal is to raise enough money so that athletes who win medals at international events are provided with enough money to devote themselves fully to sports, even after they retire. The purpose is to take winning athletes and turn them into coaches or volunteers.

This story has been viewed 4400 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top