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World Games begin in Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung, Jul 16 (Agencies):
Published on 16 Jul. 2009 11:36 PM IST
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Taiwan stood tall on the international stage Thursday, as President Ma Ying-jeou opened the World Games before 40,000 spectators in the southern port city of Kaohsiung’s state-of-the-art Main Stadium. “I declare the 2009 World Games open,” Ma said as the capacity crowd exploded into life, cheering the president in a celebration of patriotism and expectation of the sporting extravaganza set to unfold over the coming days. Prior to Ma taking the podium, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu delivered an address in which she thanked the International World Games Association for giving the city a chance to hold the event. “Staging an event such as the World Games proves Taiwan has the ability to be a responsible member of the international community,” she said. “All countries should participate in this event and not be forgotten.” The Kaoshiung Organizing Committee said around US$73 million had been invested by the central and city governments in staging the games. This was the first time for Taiwan to hold a major international multisport competition. The 11-day event, which runs until July 26, features 3,800 athletes from 98 countries participating in 31 sports. These are categorized into artistic and dance sports, ball sports, martial arts, precision sports, strength sports and trend sports. The two-hour opening ceremony showcased the island’s rich heritage and multicultural traditions, blending traditional and modern in a celebration of everything Taiwanese. The stadium floor was filled with a host of performers, including dancers, in-line skaters and puppeteers, performing to the sounds of electronic music and orchestral numbers. High-tech light and smoke shows, along with fireworks, created an evening that will long live on in the memory of spectators and performers alike. A highlight of the ceremony was “Kaohsiung Vitality,” featuring Taiwanese ultramarathon star Kevin Lin. Running around a virtual map of the world, Lin and a team of 40 cyclists made their way from the frozen wastes of the Artic to warm embrace of Kaohsiung. After the performances, 1,800 athletes made their way into the stadium, with the loudest cheers reserved for the French, Japanese and Taiwanese contingents. Following the speeches, the ceremony concluded with a fireworks display. Kaohsiung’s World Games is the eighth held since 1981 following U.S. city Santa Clara, California’s staging of the innaugural event. Other hosts include London, England; Lahti, Finland; Akita, Japan. The 2013 games will be shared between the German cities of Dusiburg and Dusseldorf. China boycotts TAIPEI, Jul 16 (Agencies): The 100-strong Chinese delegation boycotted the opening ceremony of the World Games in Taiwan on Thursday, underscoring the limits of the historic breakthrough in relations between Taipei and Beijing. The Chinese gesture is likely to ruffle feathers on this democratic island of 23 million people, which under President Ma Ying-jeou has moved aggressively to improve ties with the mainland, its once-bitter enemy. While the Chinese delegation did not say immediately why it boycotted the ceremony — a comment on state-run China News Service acknowledged the presence of Chinese athletes in Taiwan, without mentioning the opening ceremony — the act is almost certainly related to Ma’s role in declaring the games open. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and the communist mainland still views the island as part of its territory. Because of this claim Chinese attendance at the ceremony could have been seen as lending legitimacy to Ma’s presidential role. That would contradict Beijing’s long-standing position that Taiwan lacks state sovereignty. Under a hazy summer sky in the southern city of Kaohsiung, more than 3,000 athletes and staff from 105 countries and territories marched into the World Games Stadium, a new, eye-catching structure designed by renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito. But under the gaze of the capacity crowd of 40,000, the Chinese team was absent from the ceremony, with a single Taiwanese staff member carrying a sign marked “China,” and another carrying a Chinese flag. Some in the crowd applauded this representation of the communist colossus to the west, but many booed, in a clear sign of displeasure with the Chinese action. The mainland’s boycott stands in contradiction to the rapidly improving relations between the sides. Since taking power 14 months ago Ma has jettisoned his predecessor’s pro-independence policies, tightening economic links with the mainland, and lowering tensions across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest level in 60 years. Ma believes the two sides can nurture their friendship while putting political questions on the back burner, and has expressed consistent support for a formal peace treaty with Beijing. Most Taiwanese support his policies, though events like the World Games boycott do not help the mainland’s image on the island, which is already undermined by perceptions it is austere and overbearing. Taiwan invested about $220 million in the World Games, a quadrennial event featuring 21 non-Olympic sports, like sumo and rugby. Many Taiwanese see it as a golden opportunity to stretch the limits of the island’s international isolation — it is absent from bodies like the United Nations, and is recognized by only 23 countries — and do not appreciate moves to restrict its space. In a contrary display, they broadly welcomed Beijing’s acquiescence in permitting Taiwan to attend the May meeting of a U.N. health body as an observer. Political scientist Lo Chih-cheng of Soochow University said after the Chinese delegation’s snub many Taiwanese will raise tough questions about Ma’s cross-strait policy. “Ma has been telling Taiwanese that Beijing accepts his claim that Taiwan and China can agree to differ on whether the two sides belong to the same country, but the Chinese delegation’s no-show has contradicted that,” said Lo, who generally supports the pro-independence opposition. “This will lead people to question the legitimacy of Ma’s statements.” But fellow political scientist George Tsai of Taipei’s Chinese Culture University — usually a supporter of the government — said China had shown goodwill by allowing Ma to preside over the opening ceremony. “Beijing could demand the World Games follow Olympic rules and forbid Ma to attend, but it didn’t,” Tsai said. “This shows Beijing has made concessions.”

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