World Games get grand kick-off, but mainland athletes stay away

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 July, 2009, 12:00am

The World Games opened in southern Taiwan yesterday, although the mood was dampened by a decision by mainland athletes to boycott the opening ceremony.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou announced the start of the 11-day Games in the ceremony at the main stadium in Kaohsiung, against a backdrop of performances by dancers from indigenous peoples, traditional puppet shows and fireworks.

'I now declare the opening of the eighth World Games in Kaohsiung,' Mr Ma said in both Putonghua and English, as the organiser played Taiwan's national flag anthem while raising the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag.

Mr Ma was speaking shortly after the entry of 1,800 athletes from 92 countries. None were from the mainland, however. Organisers said that although the mainland athletes - who are competing in eight events - had arrived in the city, they did not register for the opening ceremony.

'There were 22 registrants from the mainland, but they were media representatives, city and company officials,' said Chang Chun-yang, director of Kaohsiung City Information Management.

Mr Chang declined to say why the athletes did not want to attend the opening ceremony. But Taiwanese legislators said their absence was due mainly to the presence of Mr Ma, whose status as president was not recognised by Beijing.

'It's understandable that they chose not to attend the opening to avoid the embarrassment,' Kuomintang legislator Wu Yu-sheng said.

Mr Wu said the boycott was the result of a meeting between the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee and mainland authorities.

According to local television reports, a small group of Tibetan exiles shouted slogans and distributed leaflets, alleging Beijing's suppression of Tibet and calling for the region's independence.

Athletes from Hong Kong and Macau were at the opening.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, who visited Beijing and Shanghai in May to promote the Games, said she respected the mainland's decision.

A leading voice within the pro- independence Democratic Progressive Party, Ms Chen managed to win agreement from the International World Games Association - whose status was recognised by the International Olympic Committee - for Mr Ma to participate in the event.

But there are security concerns after she said spectators could bring any flag - including the Republic of China national flag and Taiwanese pro-independence flags.

A security official said the move would make the job even harder.

Police officers had a hard time trying to stop one woman from waving a huge Taiwanese national flag outside the main stadium.

They also had heated arguments with a group of pro-independence activists who wanted to bring huge banners condemning the mainland into the stadium.

Yesterday's celebrations were overshadowed by media reports that 15 members of the East Turkestan Liberation Organisation, a secessionist Uygur organisation, and two activists blacklisted by Interpol had entered Taiwan.