An ath­lete’s ‘no pole’ plight shines light on In­ter­net power

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The World Youth Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships held in Cali, Colom­bia ended two weeks ago, yet Tai­wan’s news media and ne­ti­zens held onto it for most of last week. It is not be­cause they were in cel­e­bra­tion of a Tai­wanese ath­lete tak­ing away medals or break­ing some world record, but rather ex­press­ing dis­may and gen­eral out­rage over the Sports Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Chi­nese Taipei Track and Field As­so­ci­a­tion’s in­abil­ity to ship a pole into 17-yearold pole vault con­tender Yeh Yao-wen’s hands, which led to the young ath­lete’s dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Af­ter days of de­bate and media pres­sure, Sports Ad­min­is­tra­tion Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Ho Jow-fei, Chi­nese Taipei Track and Field As­so­ci­a­tion Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Wang Ching-cheng and Yeh’s coach held a press con­fer­ence, bowed and apol­o­gized for the whole mishap. “This is all our fault,” Wang had said. Should a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion oc­cur in the fu­ture, Ho promised to step down from his po­si­tion.

Both the media and ne­ti­zens may have fi­nally laid this sit­u­a­tion to rest since they’ve fi­nally got­ten an apol­ogy out of the gov­ern­ment, how­ever Yeh’s sit­u­a­tion should not be quickly for­got­ten just like that. Nor should the public dis­re­gard all of what the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and other sports as­so­ci­a­tions, have done in the past years for the track-and-field and other sports com­mu­ni­ties, de­spite it hav­ing never been laid out for the media as of­ten as other pop­u­lar sports, from base­ball to bas­ket­ball for ex­am­ple.

In spite of the Tai­wanese gov­ern­ment’s grow­ing at­ten­tion and con­tri­bu­tion to the sports in­dus­try and ath­letes’ train­ing, the “no pole” sit­u­a­tion in­volv­ing Yeh brings light again to what many Tai­wanese ath­letes’ have silently ex­pe­ri­enced in the past years. How should both the Sports Ad­min­is­tra­tion and other re­lated as­so­ci­a­tions pro­tect their ath­letes’ rights over­seas? In Yeh’s case, how should they ad­dress and re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity of an ath­lete not re­ceiv­ing their equip­ment to the low­est ex­tent pos­si­ble? A pos­si­ble an­swer lies in one thing we use ev­ery­day.

The In­ter­net is abun­dant in re­source­ful ne­ti­zens and lurk­ing pro­gram­mers with cod­ing skills, but it is up to the gov­ern­ment to learn how to tap into their power. Per­haps the Sports Ad­min­is­tra­tion can take a page out of a lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s book.

Fol­low­ing the Formosa Wa­ter Park ex­plo­sions in late June, more than 500 in­jured were scat­tered across dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals for treat­ment. Anx­ious fam­ily mem­bers or friends were un­able to find their pos­si­bly in­jured chil­dren and friends. But the gov­ern­ment sec­tors in­volved in the cre­ation of a data­base for fam­ily mem­bers to search for their loved ones re­al­ized that they lacked the means and a part­ner who could cre­ate a plat­form on such short no­tice.

These of­fi­cials un­wit­tingly ended up re­cruit­ing the In­ter­net by re­leas­ing cer­tain in­for­ma­tion as “open data” to a non­govern­ment pro­fes­sional, who then in turn sought as­sis­tance on so­cial media, namely Face­book. The In­ter­net rose to the oc­ca­sion. The first ver­sion of a pro­gram came out within an hour, along with other ver­sions and plat­forms fol­low­ing af­ter­wards. This “open-data” pro­ject story was pub­lished in a lo­cal mag­a­zine, Wealth Mag­a­zine. It was also the gov­ern­ment’s first at­tempt at reach­ing out to so­cial media for as­sis­tance.

What does this tell other bu­reau­cratic sec­tors? Know thy lim­its. Re­cruit the In­ter­net. Seek help from so­cial media, and em­brace “open data.” Sports as­so­ci­a­tions, or any sort of or­ga­ni­za­tion with ties to the gov­ern­ment or un­der­go­ing events abroad, could ally them­selves with the In­ter­net in set­ting up “open-data” data­bases as well, with the gov­ern­ment, media and the public act­ing as watch­dogs, to pro­vide timely as­sis­tance for ath­letes abroad.

Plat­forms could also be set up in a way to sup­port an ath­lete through crowd­fund­ing. Ath­letes would be able to get fi­nan­cial spon­sor­ship through fan do­na­tions — the public and fans would able do­nate money or equip­ment to show their sup­port and at the same time, it could also quench cer­tain as­so­ci­a­tions or ad­min­is­tra­tions’ need for money. Lack of fund­ing is a com­mon oc­cur­rence among sports-re­lated as­so­ci­a­tions and gov­ern­ment sec­tors in Tai­wan, pos­si­bly due to the stereo­types of it not con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy.

For a chance to see fu­ture Tai­wanese ath­letes shine on an in­ter­na­tional stage, the In­ter­net and public will be more than will­ing to help, in­stead of sit­ting be­hind their key­boards and en­gag­ing in online de­bates. All the bu­reau­cratic sec­tors and as­so­ci­a­tions need to do is open their doors, and ask. A young per­son’s life is just as im­por­tant as a young ath­lete’s blos­som­ing fu­ture.

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