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 (
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 (
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 (
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.
The association has already lodged a complaint with the IBAF, which oversees the championships. The association has asked it to consider political interference in the future when choosing host cities and countries for federation-related events, Lin said.
Federation president Harvey Schiller responded by apologizing in a letter to the association, adding that he had requested Venezuela's federation chapter to apologize to Taiwan.
Venezuela has not indicated it would issue visas, however.
Under pressure from China, Caracas stopped issuing visas to Taiwanese earlier this year, a problem the association first encountered when trying to book plane tickets and obtain visas for the baseballers in April, Lin said.
The association has few channels through which to appeal, as the MOFA has virtually no means of conducting dialogue with Caracas, he said.
The players are still waiting anxiously for visas and have not lost hope that they will be able to join in the competition, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported.
Even if the visas are issued in time, the teams are better off not going to Venezuela, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (
"Sports contests should not be affected by politics. Venezuela's refusal to issue visas is unfair and unwarranted. It's just wrong," Hu said.
Venezuela is plagued by public safety issues, making the country an unsafe place to visit, he said, adding that a number of other countries' teams had decided not to compete in the championship because of safety concerns.
Venezuela has also refused visas to the Argentine team, Lin said.
The association will make it up to the disappointed teams by arranging for them to play against Japanese rivals in a series of games in Tokyo, one of which will be held in a stadium, in November, Lin said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan,
Flora Wang, Jewel Huang and CNA
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