One of the stories from the 2017 Summer Universiade has to do with Uganda, whose government had originally banned its athletes from attending the world sporting event, happening in Taipei right now, because of its “One China Policy, but the decision was overturned at the last minute. The Ugandan athletes were able to come to Taiwan and even carried a banner saying “Uganda Loves Taipei.”
In addition to the efforts by the athletes themselves, there is another unsung hero behind this dramatic turn of events—the former chairman of the Uganda Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce, JL Jeff Lin (林政良).
When I was working on starting a farm in Uganda, chairman Lin helped me tremendously, and I still feel grateful to him.
Chairman Lin worked tirelessly behind the scenes, using his own time and resources to help Ugandan athletes to come to Taiwan. It’s people like that who are the real heroes of Taiwan’s worldwide diplomacy.
Funding Problems and Politics
At the beginning of this year, Uganda’s federation of collegiate athletes was already planning to attend the Summer Universiade, the “collegiate Olympics,” hosted by Taipei. The Uganda Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce was quite proactive in assisting the athletes to make this trip happen. In June, at a joint event with a delegation from Taiwan’s trade promotion authority, Chairman Lin’s charity donated to the federation as well.
But due to the slow pace of Uganda’s economy this year and other factors, the athletes faced some difficulty raising funds. By the end of last month, they had not even secured half of the travel costs, and by August 9 only about 70% of the team can come to Taiwan.
On August 11, Chairman Lin held a banquet for the athletes and delegates at his restaurant. Right before the banquet, the head of the athletes’ federation admitted to Chairman Lin that the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports called him to urge the trip be canceled. He also revealed that the foreign affairs ministry issued a message to the education ministry: “due to the One China Policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommends the Ministry of Education and Sports not to attend the Summer Universiade…” and the email from the education ministry mentions “do not send delegation to Chinese Taipei” explicitly.
There was even a rumor from a national university that the athletes would be banned from traveling, and would have to return their funding.
Last Minute Public Diplomacy
At the banquet, Chairman Lin and the delegation, along with several of the senior coaches and administrators of the university sports departments, met and decided to respond in the following ways:
- Try to urge the Ministry of Education and Sports to reconsider, through any points of contact within the ministry;
- Hold off on announcing the ban publicly and try to appeal the ban before it becomes news;
- Chairman Lin will contact the foreign affairs minister as well as try to get in touch with the Chinese embassy;
- The delegation will continue to prepare for attending the Universiade in Taipei.
The next day, the delegation visited the presidential office and learned that the president had wanted to support and fund the sports delegation, but was advised against it by his staff. The delegation also visited the minister of education and sports, who said he was not informed of this decision.
Later that afternoon Chairman Lin also visited the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, which said while China opposes any official diplomatic contact with Taiwan, it is not opposed to people to people activities like sporting events. Chairman Lin relayed this message to the foreign minister and scheduled to meet him on Monday the 14th to advocate for the athletes.
On the 14th, Chairman Lin met with the Ugandan foreign ministry and delivered a petition by the federation of college athletes. After a long negotiation, the ministry agreed to support the athletes coming to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the head of the delegation also was able to convince the education ministry to revert their original decision. The Ugandan government agreed to let the athletes go to Taiwan, as long as there are no official diplomatic contacts.
The next day, the government released its official documentation of the decision, and the Ugandan athletes finally made their way to Taipei. After four days of intense efforts, 42 athletes and 17 coaches and administrators will compete with the rest of the world at the largest international sporting event hosted in Taiwan.
During this time, the delegation and Chairman Lin decided to keep the ongoing talks behind the scenes until the final decision came down. I agreed that the safest way was to wait until the athletes were on the plane to Taipei before announcing the decision publicly.
Making Friends in Uganda
Uganda will compete in track and field, badminton, tennis, women’s basketball, swimming and other events. Their delegation includes a former gold medalist in track, and a pan-Africa champion in badminton. They are all excited to visit Taiwan.
Uganda’s press and sports world are all very supportive of their athletes competing in Taiwan.
One thing I do have to say: as the news of Uganda first banning their athletes to Taiwan, there are people commenting online that Uganda is just “some poor country in Africa” and can’t even afford to come to Taiwan. That is seriously prejudiced and insulting. Ugandans are a proud people.
At the IAAF World Championships London 2017, Ugandan runner Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei won silver in the 10,000 meter race, and his plan was simply to return home to train. “If I do the training from home I inspire the young ones,” he said; “If they see the medal they try to do the same.”
Wishing the best for the Universiade games, and good luck to the Uganda and Taiwan teams.
(Feature photo of JL Jeff Lin, courtesy of Kuan-Ting Chen)
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