Legislators and sports officials yesterday joined fans in denouncing the national badminton body, as calls of autocracy arose after reports that badminton player Tai Tzu-ying might face censure over her choice in shoes and other apparel at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The Chinese Taipei Badminton Association (CTBA) held a news conference on Wednesday, at which it said Taiwan’s No. 1 female player and a rising star on the international stage had breached the association’s agreement with its main sponsor, sportswear firm Yonex.
In Rio, Tai wore customized shoes from Victor, her own sponsor, which reportedly angered officials, prompting calls for a fine and possibly a one-year ban from representing the nation.
The announcement came within 24 hours of Tai being eliminated in her round-of-16 match and while she was still downcast about the defeat.
She told fans that she had sustained a muscle injury in training in the weeks prior to her departure for Rio, which had affected her performance.
Reports of the proposed punishment prompted outrage, with accusations that fat-cat sports officials and former government bureaucrats out of touch with the grassroots sports scene ruled over athletes in autocratic style, with their self-interest and desire for political control their primary concerns.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Kuo-shu said that the association must stop making unreasonable demands and vengeful moves against Tai, who has achieved new highs for Taiwan in recent years by winning badminton titles.
“The CTBA must not abuse its power to exploit and persecute against our nation’s athletes, and it must not allow business interests to override the needs of grassroots sports,” Huang wrote in a public statement.
“Athletes are not the property of sports associations, and I ask the Sports Administration to protect athletes in such matters,” he said. “The CTBA must not take revenge against Tai.”
“As the sponsorship deal was unfair to athletes, I will request the Sports Administration to provide legal counsel to review these agreements,” he said.
Tai said she had tried to comply with the sponsorship deal, but Yonex would often send her clothing and shoes to wear a few days before major tournaments, with the shoes unfit for her, as she had blisters and bruises on her feet from playing.
Tai said that her feet are different sizes and she needed to wear sports shoes tailored to her specific requirements for training and competition, adding that Victor has custom-crafted her shoes.
Reports said that the association received NT$109.2 million (US$3.48 million) in a sponsorship deal from 2011 to 2014 and signed a NT$20 million deal after that, which included a requirement that Taiwanese at international badminton tournaments only use rackets, clothing and shoes from Yonex.
Tai’s father, Tai Nan-kai, said that the association did not consult athletes, who did not agree to the latest deal.
The CTBA “over-interpreted” the conditions, as the agreement only concerned game apparel and did not cover rackets and shoes, he said.
“I urge the CTBA to respect the individual requirements of athletes and their own sponsorship agreements with other companies,” he said.
Netizens accused officials of pocketing money from sponsorship deals to line their own accounts, leaving little to support athletes, while others said that most sports bodies are staffed by patronage appointments for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials and their friends.
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