World Games bring spotlight to southern Taiwan
2008 was undoubtedly China’s year in the limelight, thanks to the Beijing Olympics. But this year, China’s longtime political and diplomatic rival Taiwan gets the World Games
And it’s not Taiwan’s frenetic, fashionable capital Taipei which will be hosting the event. Instead, the island’s second largest city and one of the world’s busiest ports, Kaohsiung, will be home to the 16-26 July extravaganza.
The World Games, held under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee, is for some of the sports which don’t make the cut for the Olympics. That includes billiards, tug of war, sumo, squash, water skiing and even life saving.
“For the spectators, at the venues as well as in front of TV sets, the particular fascinations of The World Games are found in watching these athletes compete in sports of a kaleidoscopic variety that is without match in the entire Olympic Movement,” is how the organisation describes the event.
What I have found most fascinating is the preparations Kaohsiung has been making for the Games, particularly as I covered the Beijing Olympics and the run-up to it.
Beijing was beset by problems, all well-documented, including worries over pollution, media freedom, the poor foreign language skills of its citizens and many, many other issues, though in the end it all went off more or less smoothly.
Having been to Kaohsiung many times over the past decade and several times over the last few months, I have been fascinated to observe their build-up.
Media freedom was never really going to be an issue, as Taiwan is a free-wheeling democracy with a feisty press and little fear of foreign reporters. Pollution used to be a problem in Kaohsiung, but it less so now since many of the factories packed up and moved to much cheaper China.
Kaohsiung’s transport infrastructure has been revolutionised by the opening last year of a sleek new subway system, which is not only fully bilingual in Mandarin and English but includes announcements in the Hokkien and Hakka dialects.
Of course, it has not and will not be all plain sailing, and politics has begun to intrude.
Kaohsiung’s city government is run by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which lost last year’s presidential election to the Nationalists, who once ran all of China until being forced to flee to Taiwan at the end of a civil war with the Communists.
The pro-Taiwan independence DPP has been accusing the central government in Taipei of not giving them the money they want for the World Games.
Will Kaohsiung be able to attract that many spectators? The World Games hardly has the draw of the Olympics, and is being held in a city many foreigners have probably never heard of, let alone can pronounce. The global economic downturn could stymie the plans even of those who would like to go.
I for one will be watching with interest to see how the Games turn out, and if they manage to raise Kaohsiung’s or Taiwan’s international profile.
For a Reuters city guide to Kaohsiung, please click here.
Pictures of Games poster and building of the stadium in Kaohsiung by Pichi Chuang/REUTERS