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The unheard dream of Taipei's Deaflympics

The unheard dream of Taipei's Deaflympics

The first ever Deaflympics to be held in Asia began in Taipei City Saturday evening with a technically spectacular opening ceremony featuring flying goddesses and a massive fireworks display, that aimed to highlight the themes of a "dream that can be heard" and a "proud Taiwan."
Many if not most Taiwan citizens have cherished high expectations for the virtually back to back convention of the first World Games ever to be hosted in Taiwan that were successfully conducted in Kaohsiung City in July and the first ever Deaflympics now underway in Taipei.
However, the opening ceremony indicated that the Taipei City's Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) administration of Mayor Hau Lung-pin has failed to transcend the habitual obsession with form over content and has failed to grasp the essential spirit of the Deaflympics.
The organizing committee has stressed that they had "only two years" to plan the games and spent NT$600 million on the opening ceremony, compared to NT$90 million that was expended for the inauguration of the Kaohsiung World Games.
Nevertheless, the lack of time cannot excuse the apparent inability to pay attention to the main actors, namely hearing impaired citizens or the excessive focus on political instead of sports men and women.
The opening ceremony featured sections on "The Beauty of Taiwan," "Building an Ocean Nation" and "Concern for the Hearing Impaired" which were performed with technical precision and brilliant sound and visual effects.
However, the ceremony, which had only one program, namely an ensemble of 80 hearing impaired drummers from U-Theatre, featured stunning but spectacularly expensive fireworks demonstration and singing by diva A-mei and the indigenous folk singer Hu Teh-fu catered mainly to the tastes of the "listeners" and was weak on content in terms of deaf culture for the audience and nearly 2,700 athletes from over 90 countries.
Moreover, unlike the opening and closing ceremonies of the Kaohsiung World Games, the different sections lacked any perceivable underlying theme that manifested the spirit, culture or identity of Taiwan and thus fell short of truly moving the audience.
At the same time, the organizers continually stressed that the aspect of "the first time in Asia" and compared the Deaflymics to last August's Beijing Summer Olympics, whose influence was also evident in the regimented and technology-intensive flavor of the opening ceremony, including the choice of a military police squad as bearers of the "Chinese Taipei" Deaflympics flag. \
Unfortunately, the failure to grasp the essential difference between these events may also have led the organizers to neglect the opportunity of launching a movement to popularize education in sign language until the eve of the beginning of the games.
In addition, the organizers did not consider the adoption of "non-profit" concepts to guide the operation of the Deaflympics but carried out promotional activities through commercial public relations companies, a decision that caused considerable moral discomfort among hearing impaired welfare groups.
It is apparent that the Deaflympics in Taipei are being managed as a commercial enterprise and have departed from the principle of promoting dignity and sportsmanship among the hearing impaired and other disadvantaged groups in society.
From the political standpoint, the decision by the organizing committee to invite first lady Chou Mei-ching, a person who through her association with President Ma Ying-jeou is undoubtedly to be considered a "political personage," to directly participate in the opening ceremony constituted a serious action of disrespect to the non-partisan Olympic spirit and the special spirit of the Deaflympics.
Injury was added to insult by the fixation of most of the Taiwan news media on the question of whether the team from the People's Republic of China would appear at the opening ceremony or repeat their absence from both the opening and closing ceremonies for the Kaohsiung World Games.
This action by the PRC team was obviously an affront to the host country and cannot be excused as "goodwill" as in both cases the absence of the Chinese team was due to the presence of President Ma Ying-jeou, who announced the commencement of both events.
The stated purpose of the Deaflympics is to "provide opportunities for deaf persons to participate in elite sports" and "through non-discriminatory sports educate youth and build a peaceful world" and thereby promote awareness of human rights for disabled persons throughout the world.
It should be obvious from these principles that the Deaflympics should not be subject to political manipulation, but both the organizing committee, first lady Chou Mei-ching and much of the Taiwan media have demonstrated their lack of understanding and respect for this fundamental principle.
International athletic competitions are also a means to raise world recognition and understanding for the host countries and cities, and it is in this sense that the design of the opening ceremony of the Taipei Deaflympics to please the tastes of officials and the elite and currying China's favor instead of boldly manifesting Taiwan's unique and pluralistic culture, identity and history was also most unfortunate.