Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Controversy hits dragon boat race

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

The National Taiwan Normal University Mandarin Training Center team cheer one another on before their race in Sunday's dragon boat competition in Taipei, in which they finished first. The team found out yesterday that they had been disqualified because one of its members did not wear his life vest properly.


This year's Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship was gripped by controversy yesterday after a disaffected dragon boat team positioned its canoe in the middle of the race course on Keelung River and then jumped ship to further disrupt the race, participants said.

Pandemonium broke out yesterday morning after the co-ed dragon boat team from National Taiwan Normal University's Mandarin Training Center (MTC) were demoted from the "winners' bracket" to that of "losers" because a team member had failed to properly wear his life vest, MTC rower Eric Chou said.

"We won our races on Sunday and participated in a ceremony that night thinking we'd won," said Chou, a US student studying Chinese at MTC.

In the second day of races yesterday, however, organizers informed the center's coed team that its exploits the day before were annulled, and that it had been bumped down into the losers' bracket.

"They whited out our scores," Chou said, "and there wasn't any immediate explanation why."

Enraged by the mysterious retroactive scoring, the MTC team, known for its competitive spirit, decided to use its race in the losers' bracket to send a message to organizers, Chou said by telephone.

"We rowed to the middle of the course and stopped, blocking [other teams]," he said.

When a throng of motorboats roared over to tug their canoe ashore, the rowers then jumped ship and "floated around for a little bit," he said.

The rowers' main gripe, Chou said, was that organizers offered no explanation for annulling their winners' bracket placement until after the team's river plunge.

"They told us only after all this that one of our teammates' life vests hadn't been properly buckled on Sunday," he said.

Taipei Sports Office director Liang Yung-fei (梁永斐) conceded yesterday that the failure to immediately explain the demotion to the team was an "oversight" that would be "reviewed in the days ahead."

But, Liang said, jumping into the river to protest is in clear violation of the race rules, as is not properly wearing life vests. The rules were made clear in an orientation preceding races, he said.

Organizer Wu Chin-sheng (吳金盛) brushed off teary protests from MTC rowers yesterday, saying that the rules were clear.

"We don't need to inform you," he said.

Held annually at the Dragon Boat Festival at Dajia Riverside Park in Taipei, the dragon boat races pit foreign and local teams against one another in three days of intense competition.

The MTC teams are known for practicing daily for months before the competition and typically advance to the winners' bracket matches every year, MTC teacher Sun Yih-fen (孫懿芬) said.

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