On Saturday last week, the day after the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony, news reached Taiwan that its athletes had already begun winning medals.
Reports called judo silver medalist Yang Yung-wei (楊勇緯) of the Paiwan community “the pride of Taiwan, the glory of Aborigines,” and Fang Wan-ling (方菀靈) of the Tsou community a “weightlifting genie,” after she came in fourth in the women’s under-49kg category.
Headlines rang out, saying that the two athletes were cause for Taiwanese and the nation’s Aboriginal communities to be proud.
If you look closely at the statistics of these Games and previous ones, members of Aboriginal communities have long been prominent in Taiwan’s Olympic teams.
Remember legendary decathlete Yang Chuan-kwang (楊傳廣) of the Amis community, for example.
At the National Taiwan University of Sport, where I work, Aboriginal students from a range of communities make up a large percentage of the student body.
In the 2014 movie Kano, Japanese baseball coach Hyotaro Kondo says that baseball teams can be successful if they bring to the fore the strengths of each team member’s ethnic group.
For example, he says that Aborigines are good at running, ethnic Taiwanese are good hitters and Japanese excel in defense, adding that these are weapons that can be employed to ensure victory in the ballpark.
International studies on sports and training highlight the importance of athletes’ individual characteristics. There have been plenty of examples of outstanding Aboriginal athletes on Taiwan’s national baseball team, as well as players plying their trade overseas.
This might be a good time to cultivate and select talented athletes from Taiwan’s Aboriginal communities.
Representatives of all communities can perhaps take part in discussions with the Sports Administration and help university sports departments conduct research on how to better develop Aboriginal talent, for example through the establishment of an Aboriginal sports selection committee.
At the same time, educational programs could be set up to develop each community’s specific skill sets in sports, music, dance and traditional crafts.
That might offer life-changing opportunities for Aboriginal community members.
It is wonderful to see Taiwanese become enthusiastic about sports in the run-up to each Olympic Games, and I hope that this kind of enthusiasm will continue and that people will not lose interest as soon as media coverage ends, as has happened in other fields, for example with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
If Taiwanese can understand the importance of sports and exercise, perhaps this would lead to reform and rejuvenation of the nation’s sports institutions and attract better leadership. This would help create a healthier population and a flourishing sports culture.
In the meantime, I wish the Taiwanese athletes in Tokyo all the best for the Olympic Games.
Leo Hsu is a professor at the National Taiwan University of Sport.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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