More than a celebration of sports, the games were a rare opportunity for Taiwan to shine on the world stage. And it did that brilliantly.
The 29th Summer Universiade will conclude this evening with what promises to be an eye-catching ceremony in Taipei, wrapping up 12 days of sports excellence and many high moments for Taiwan, which made the best of this rare occasion to shine on the international stage.
The host country, Taiwan finished third in the medal count, with 26 gold, 34 silver and 30 bronze, behind Japan and South Korea. The captivating performances by the Taiwanese athletes who competed in the games, with Cheng Chao-tsun setting a new record for Asia in javelin throw, among other feats, brought excitement to levels seldomly seen in Taiwan’s sports sector.
And yet, the true success of the Summer Universiade was that it put Taiwan in the global spotlight at a time when China has intensified its efforts to isolate the democratic island-nation internationally. Though forced to compete under the preposterous name “Chinese Taipei,” the athletes were all Taiwan, as were the crowds that cheered for them. Moreover, the more than 7,000 athletes from 131 countries who travelled the distance to compete in the games did not find themselves in the bizarre political netherworlds of “Chinese Taipei” — no: they were in Taiwan, and they had a chance to experience first-hand its beauty, efficiency, abundant food, and above all, the legendary friendliness of its people. The astounding opening ceremony on Aug. 19, a boisterous celebration of diversity, also gave the foreign visitors a taste of the rich, multicultural and unique fabric of Taiwanese society.
For a symbolic cost (bitter, I know) in official nomenclature, Taiwanese in return had an occasion to shine on the world stage, and to open the doors to their beautiful country to thousands of young athletes and delegates.
Taiwan, which doesn’t often get a chance to rejoice, needed that success. It is theirs — the athletes, and the countless others who made the games possible.
This was a much-needed booster for Taiwan’s pride and patriotism, an occasion when Taiwanese could stand tall and proud. And it could be felt all around — in the ebullience at the sports sites, in the dedication of the thousands of volunteers, in the long lineups at the souvenir stalls, in the thunderous outbursts whenever one of their own won gold, and in the feverishness with which ordinary Taiwanese talked about the games at home, at the workplace, at the restaurant. Many a tear was shed, and at long last those were of the right kind.
Minus a temporary disruptions caused by misguided protesters during the opening ceremony — a contretemps which Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je more than made up for with a forceful delivery emphasizing Taiwan’s democracy, followed by President Tsai Ing-wen’s opening salvo “Welcome to Taiwan!” in English — those were highly successful games, the hosting of them something that every Taiwanese should be immensely proud of. This was as clear a demonstration as one can get that Taiwan doesn’t need China to do well on the world stage; in fact, it left no doubt that Taiwan can do brilliantly despite the many attempts by Beijing to derail its efforts.
Taiwanese, who do not often get a chance to rejoice, needed that success. It is theirs — the athletes, and the countless others who made the games possible.
The public will have a chance to cheer one last time for their athletes during a celebratory parade on the streets of Taipei on Thursday (details here).
Top video courtesy of the Taipei City Government.
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