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For sexy Dutch water polo team, Taiwan Universiade fame hits home

2017/09/18 11:19:46

Taipei, Sept. 18 (CNA) You may have never played or even heard of water polo, but if you paid any attention to the Taipei Universiade last month, you probably saw a photo of a group of half-naked men wearing nothing but Speedos over the internet.

The photo featuring the previously unknown Universiade men's water polo team from the Netherlands went viral during the games held from Aug. 19 to 30, and that recognition has followed them home, bringing benefits they could never have imagined before the sports extravaganza began.

The team enjoyed instant fame even before arriving in the country on Aug. 15, when the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office in Taiwan (NTIO) posted a photograph of the 16 team members in their Speedos on the office's Facebook page.

The NTIO is Holland's de facto embassy in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

Though the team ultimately failed to clinch a medal, finishing seventh at the games, it became arguably the most recognizable foreign team at the Universiade to Taiwanese fans.

In a recent interview with CNA, NTIO representative Guy Wittich, said the popularity of the post was "unexpected and overwhelming," considering that "water polo is apparently not a popular sport in Taiwan and not even in the Netherlands."

It was originally posted to attract attention and get people in Taiwan to root for the Dutch team, Wittich said, but thanks to the post and the subsequent media reports that spread over online media, it has unwittingly brought fame to the team back home.

Members of the water polo team are now doing TV interviews and talk shows in the Netherlands after their successful public relations run in Taiwan, he said.

The team is extremely thankful for the media exposure that raised their visibility globally because the team depends mainly on sponsors rather than government subsidies, according to Wittich.

"Thanks to the exposure, the team is expected to find sponsorships more easily as it gears up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games," he said.

Another fringe benefit is that other national teams in the Netherlands have gained more media exposure thanks to the water polo team, such as the country's fencing team being featured recently on the cover of the Taiwan edition of Vogue magazine, he said.

The NTIO has benefited from the popularity of the team as well, with the number of likes on its official Facebook page rising sharply from 3,000 to 14,000 in the weeks following the posting of the photo, bringing more recognition of both the office and the Netherlands in Taiwan.

The envoy said the NTIO's Facebook followers prior to the games were mostly businesspeople and companies, but the post helped the office expand its fan base and reach ordinary Taiwanese citizens.

Though the promotional photo was only intended to boost the team's and the Netherlands' profile in Taiwan, it ultimately did more than that, Wittich believed.

"It helped to boost bilateral exchanges via sports and now people in Netherlands all know that sports in Taiwan are highly popular," he said.

"We believe the successful promotion of the team will help to generate more future sports exchanges between the two countries."

(By Joseph Yeh)