The 2016 Rio Olympic Games closed on Aug. 21, with Taiwan securing a grand total of three medals. But well before the games began, the Taiwan sports industry had come under severe criticism — and that only got worse as the games progressed.

Taiwan’s top professional women’s singles tennis player Hsieh Su-wei (謝淑薇) dropped out of the games just days before the games began, and announced she would never play for the national team again. The decision was made after Hsieh’s coach, who is her brother, was not allowed to travel to Rio with the Taiwanese team, and deputy leader of Taiwan’s Olympic delegation Tsai Tzu-chueh (蔡賜爵) reportedly yelled at Hsieh during a meeting.

During the games, professional women’s badminton player Tai Tzu-ying (戴資穎) was drawn into a “footwear dispute” with Yonex and the Chinese Taipei Badminton Association (CTBA).

Tai is sponsored by Victor. But under a contract between CTBA and Yonex, which sponsors the association, players on the national team were required to wear apparel and footwear provided by Yonex. Tai wrote a letter to the CTBA in hope it would give her permission to wear Victor footwear in the Olympics. Victor also made a pair of badminton shoes, without the company logo, for Tai to wear at the games.

But the CTBA says that in April it told Tai the association notified players back in 2014, when it signed the contract with Yonex, they had to start getting comfortable with Yonex apparel, and two years should have been enough for the players to do so. At the games, Tai first wore the Victor shoes, before changing to the Yonex brand. The CTBA said it will punish the badminton player after she returned from the Olympics.

The incident sparked wide criticism on the Internet, and professional men’s tennis player Lu Yen-hsun (盧彥勳) also posted on Facebook saying that he “didn’t understand why the CTBA didn’t think about protecting their players’ rights before signing the contract with the sponsor” and “the association only cared about the benefits they would gain.”

Yonex issued an apology on its on Facebook on Aug. 19, saying it was in its “best interests to prioritize players’ performance and comfort on top of anything else” and that it would “carry out the appropriate actions” after a thorough investigation.

The CTBA will hold a meeting today and hopes to reach a solution the player, association, and sponsor are all comfortable with.

Another incident involved weightlifter Lin Tzu-chi (林子琦) who was suspended from competing due to an abnormal doping test.

Taiwan won a total of one gold (weightlifting) and two bronzes (weightlifting and archery) at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

What can be done?

Taiwan Sports and Leisure Industry Development Association (TSLD) chairman Hsu Cheng-hsien (徐正賢) spoke with The News Lens about the problems in Taiwan’s sports industry.

“The sports ecosystem in Taiwan — school education, social environment, and administration process — needs to be changed for Taiwan’s sports industry to be better,” he said.

Gym classes in Taiwan, Hsu said, are not taken seriously enough, reflecting the country’s attitude towards sports. Hsu says there are two keys to a mature sports environment: professional teams and branding, both of which Taiwan lacks, and “this is why sports education is very important.”

Hsu also said that players need more than financial support.

“Most players don’t understand how to effectively turn ‘money’ into financial value or more resources. The government should instead provide coaches, training, a good coach training program, and travel and accommodation subsidies for training and competing overseas,” he said.

If Taiwan makes improvements, starting from education, the sports environment can be changed over time, Hsu said.

“Taiwan is a 'treasure island' with sporting talent beyond our imagination, but the gods won’t keep watching over us forever,” he said.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole