Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

DPP, KMT slam Venezuela for refusing sports visas

STAFF WRITER

The pan-green and pan-blue legislative caucuses yesterday shared a rare moment of agreement as they joined forces in protest against Venezuelan authorities refusing visas to Taiwan's youth baseball teams, which were scheduled to attend the World Youth Baseball Championship in Venezuela next week.

The caucuses of both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) accused Beijing of being behind the matter.

Time is running short for 20 baseball players representing three top youth baseball teams in Taiwan and Asia to receive visas to attend the 13th annual "AA" World Youth Baseball Championships amid a sharp downturn in relations between Taipei and Caracas.

The teams are scheduled to arrive in Venezuela on Tuesday ahead of the competition starting next Friday, but the players have not received visas.

Four months of pleas by the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association with Venezuelan authorities to issue visas to the players have failed, in what could become the first time in nearly a decade that politics has prevented Taiwanese from playing in a game overseas, association secretary-general Lin Tsung-cheng (林宗成) said.

"Our youth baseball teams are being affected by political factors," Lin told reporters. "[I'm] afraid there is no way they could travel to Venezuela to participate in the championship."

Local media reported yesterday that the top official of Venezuela's national baseball association had told the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) that "there were some `political problems.'"

DPP legislative caucus whip Wang Tuoh (王拓) called a news conference yesterday to express the party's indignation.

Saying that Beijing had "put its political hand into the international sports arena" and accusing Venezuela of turning its back on fairness, Wang said the DPP had lodged a strongly worded complaint to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

KMT legislative caucus whip Justin Chou (周守訓) told a separate press conference that Venezuela should be held in contempt for submitting to Beijing's pressure, adding that China should be ashamed of itself for intervening in sports.

Chou called on officials with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Sports Affairs Council to do everything in their power to see that the baseball players could make the trip.

Chou suggested the government apply for visas through a neutral international institution or file a complaint with the IBAF.

Government Information Office Minister Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉), when approached for comments, yesterday called Venezuela's behavior "unacceptable."

Accusing China of violating the spirit of sportsmanship to obstruct Taiwan, Shieh said that Beijing's move was detrimental to cross-strait relations.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman David Wang (王建業) yesterday said the ministry and the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association would do their best to communicate with Venezuela about the visas.

Lin said that a string of key victories against regional youth baseball teams over the past year had propelled three Taichung youth baseball teams -- one of which won the 2007 Youth Baseball Asia Championships in Hong Kong -- to the top of the regional league, giving them the right to represent Asia in the world championship in Venezuela. Two of the teams have also been invited to represent Asia at the junior league championship in the US this month.

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