Thursday, January 8, 2009

Taiwan World Games 2009: Time to Buy Tickets

As Beijing and the world recover from the kitschy summer 2008 Olympic extravaganza, preparations are underway for a more subdued yet pivotal international event in Taiwan. Leave to Taiwan to go for substance and modesty over symbolism and glitter.

This summer, Taiwan will host its largest international event in its 50 year history – the 2009 World Games. Scheduled for 16-26 July 2009 in Kaohsiung, the World Games are held every four years, the alter ego to the Olympics. In fact, these are the “Taiwan Olympics.” The World Games features 31 events that aren't represented in Olympic competition, but could eventually qualify (click here for the official Kaohsiung World Games web site). And in many cases, the games include sports that many of us can related to better than the Olympics – water skiing, bowling, tug of war, sumo wrestling, squash, and pool. The World Games have been celebrated every four years since 1981, when the first event was hosted by the Californian city of Santa Clara. Organizers expect the Kaohsiung World Games to involve more than 3,000 athletes from 90 nations (click here for Reuters reporting). Below is an introductory overview from Youtube:

For a country like Taiwan, being able to host an international event – any event – is a big deal. And yes Virginia, Taiwan is a country. This is despite its lack of recognition by an international community that fears a China with some serious insecurity issues.

The games are the second-largest international multi-sports event, trailing only the Olympics. The International World Games Association (IWGA) awarded Kaohsiung the honor of hosting the eighth games in June 2004, during former presidential candidate Frank Hsieh’s term as mayor. Since that time, Kaohsiung city officials, including mayor Chen Chu, Kaohsiung Organizing Committee Chief Executive Office Emily Hsu, and Managing Director Liu Shyh-fang, have gone all out in preparation for the World Games.

After the announcement, then-Kaohsiung mayor Frank Hsieh asserted "hopefully Taiwan will obtain worldwide attention from the international media because of this grand sporting event and will have more opportunities to join in the international affairs." However, the attention just doesn’t seem to be there. The lack of a coordinated national-level publicity campaign from the central government is interesting, since it seems like Taiwan’s time to shine internationally. A July 13, 2008 China Post article covered the event, and highlighted the less-than-arousing marketing campaign for the games.

One impressive preparation is the giant 55,000 person solar-powered stadium. The Japanese-designed facility is alleged to be the largest solar powered structure in the world. On days when no competitions are taking place, the electricity generated is fed into the main city grid. The project leader is Delta Electronics. Kaohsiung also recently completed its new subway system, an investment valued at over U.S. $6 billion. The city has also been busy with its beautification efforts, cleaning up the once-not-so-lovely Love River. Artificial lakes that will serve water sports have been cleaned, and boardwalks also have been built along the banks.

“We haven’t done as well promoting this as they would overseas,” one observer notes. A Taipei Times report noted that Taiwan came close to losing the games last year due to the slow pace of construction of sports facilities.

Organizers are looking for foreign English-speaking volunteers for the World Games, particularly those able to also speak Arabic, French, German, Italian, Russian or Spanish. And of course, Chinese Mandarin or Taiwanese is a big plus. Point of contact is Conrado Piccin (

In addition, organizers, assisted by AIT Kaohsiung, have been highlighting business opportunities associated with the games, looking in particular for security-related help. See a short video below:

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