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Taiwan Fights to Keep Homegrown Tennis Star

  • Ralph Jennings

Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan, left, and Shuai Peng of China pose with their trophies after winning against Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Casey Dellacqua of Australia in the Women's doubles final match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon,

Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan, left, and Shuai Peng of China pose with their trophies after winning against Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Casey Dellacqua of Australia in the Women's doubles final match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon,

Taiwan cheered tennis star Hsieh Shu-wei's women's doubles victory at Wimbledon earlier this month. But celebration turned to shock when Hsieh indicated she was considering a sponsorship deal that would mean switching citizenship to her homeland’s arch-rival, China.

Taiwan produces few internationally known athletes, and the island cannot fly its official flag at the Olympics because old political foe China does not allow it.

So after 27-year-old tennis player Hsieh Shu-wei won Taiwan’s first Wimbledon title on July 6, the image-conscious government in Taipei sprang into action. Officials rallied potential sponsors to keep the star at home, instead of giving up her Taiwanese citizenship in exchange for a lucrative deal from a Chinese company.

Wang Shui-wen, deputy director of the Taiwan’s Sports Administration, said four Taiwanese companies have offered sponsorships, enough to meet Hsieh’s financial targets and keep her citizenship on the island.

Wang said he is confident that Hsieh will stay in Taiwan. He said the sports administration thinks Hsieh Shu-wei was raised by Taiwan and that Hsieh is very important. He adds that as a government department, to promote sports is a responsibility so it wants to support her in finding corporate sponsorships.

Local media reports said the mainland Chinese sponsor, a liquor company, wants to give her $1.63 million to represent Qinghai province in China’s far west. But her father and de facto spokesman said Hsieh will not consider that offer unless the Taiwanese sponsorship deals fall through.

China sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory rather than a country and tries to limit its international clout. The two sides have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. Since relations began improving in 2008 along with China’s growing wealth, Beijing has used a range of financial incentives to draw the island closer.

Taiwan’s sports administration said heavyweight local companies Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor, China Airlines and oil supplier CPC Corporation Taiwan have given Hsieh sponsorship offers. The fourth firm is a lesser known Taiwanese maker of plastic adhesive tape.

The player’s father, Hsieh Tzu-lung, said talks with the four are ongoing.

Criticized locally for considering the China deal, Hsieh played down her quest for money and talked up her homeland at a July 12 news conference in Taipei.

The player said she wants all Taiwanese contestants to get proper sponsorships, not just herself because she won at Wimbledon. She said it is good to have some resources but that she would be happy if she could help other Taiwanese athletes.

Sports management experts said valuable sponsorships are notoriously tough for female athletes as men dominate televised sports in much of the world. Taiwan’s best known female athlete, world No. 10 ranked golfer Yani Tseng, also once struggled to find deals so she could travel around the world playing in professional tournaments.

Taiwanese media reported that the tennis champion now receives $50,000 in sponsorships from local companies, not enough to pay the minimum of $134,000 spent every year on travel and training. Hsieh’s father said the chief obstacles are airfare and competition entry fees, but would not say exactly how much the player needs.

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