Tai Tzu-ying's world No. 1 ranking and her shoes: The China Post

Taiwan's Tai Tzu-ying hits a shot against India's P.V. Sindhu during the women's singles final of the Hong Kong Open badminton tournament in Hong Kong on Nov 27, 2016.
Taiwan's Tai Tzu-ying hits a shot against India's P.V. Sindhu during the women's singles final of the Hong Kong Open badminton tournament in Hong Kong on Nov 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Dec 2, the paper examines the issue of sports management in Taiwan.

By the time this editorial goes to press, Taiwan badminton champion Tai Tzu-ying will have been officially named the world No. 1 female badminton player.

The rare achievement was accomplished after the 22-year-old player clinched the women's singles title at the Hong Kong Open Badminton Championships on Sunday, catapulting her to the world No. 1 spot.

Defeating Indian player Pusarla V. Sindhu, who ranks world No. 9, 21:15, 21:17, on Sunday evening, Tai brought home her second Hong Kong Open title since 2014.

It also made her the first Taiwanese athlete ever to achieve world No. 1 status in the sport.

Following the historic win, Tai was greeted with a warm reception at Kaohsiung International Airport on Monday, where she was met by her father, fans and Kaohsiung officials.

As usual, one Taiwanese official after another has joined the celebrations to congratulate the latest "Pride of Taiwan." Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu immediately presented Tai with a check for NT$200,000 (S$ 8,940) as a reward.

The good news also made the front page of practically all of Taiwan's major newspapers, which almost allowed us to forgot that the last time Tai was thrust into the media spotlight involved a fight over shoes that led to her premature exit at the Rio Olympics.

Originally a medal hopeful at the Rio Games, Tai ended her trip at a singles quarterfinal on Aug. 16 after losing to Sindhu.

We later learned that one reason for her unexpectedly short trip to Brazil was because she was under extreme pressure after reportedly being threatened with punishment by Taiwan's badminton association after she wore shoes provided by a non-official sponsor.

Tai wrote in a Facebook post that she had decided to wear shoes provided by manufacturer Victor instead of the badminton association's official sponsor Yonex to ensure that she could give her best performance at international competitions.

Tai said that because her feet were two different sizes, she must wear custom-made shoes during training and games. Victor, her personal sponsor, met her needs by providing her with custom-made shoes.

Yonex, however, could not meet her demands even though it has a contract with Taiwan's badminton association, which requires Taiwanese players to wear clothing, shoes and other gear supplied by Yonex for international competitions.

Thanks to the power of social media, Tai's call finally led to an apology from the badminton association and Yonex, who both promised to make amends for the situation. But the damage had already been done.

We congratulate Tai on her rare athletic achievement, which is especially laudable following the high-profile shoe row. Tai's championship title and world No. 1 ranking show us how the star player managed to overcome obstacles and excel on the world stage.

But it also reminds us of what Taiwan's government could do to provide a better environment for our athletes. We could not help but feel sad for the rising badminton star who could have advanced further in the Rio Games or moved to a higher world ranking earlier, if the shoe issue had not bothered her for years.

Instead of trying to take advantage of Taiwanese athletes who make it onto the world stage, Taiwanese government officials should take better care of athletes by ensuring that local sports associations are not harming players.

Many of these organisations have long being criticised for lacking transparency and accused of being tightly controlled by a select few individuals.

We are happy to see that the government plans to form an arbitration agency charged with resolving disputes between athletes and sports associations, while at the same time amending regulations to better supervise the latter.

We hope this means no other players will suffer as a result of administrative decisions made by sports administrations, as Tai has.


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