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U.S. Open champ's apology shows winning isn't everything for Taiwanese

2017/09/18 20:20:49

Chan Yung-jan (詹詠然, right). Image taken from the United States Tennis Association's official website

By Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter

It should have been the proudest moment in the career of Taiwanese tennis ace Chan Yung-jan (詹詠然) when she became the first Taiwanese player to win a U.S. Open title, along with the women's doubles partner Martina Hingis, last Sunday.

Instead, Chan was forced to issue a letter of apology to local fans. Rather than being lauded as the "Pride of Taiwan" as athletes invariably are after winning glory overseas, she is arguably the most disliked sports person in Taiwan and finds herself embroiled in the biggest PR crisis of her life.

The reason many Taiwanese have taken a dislike to Chan can be traced back to the 28-year-old's premature departure from the Taipei 2017 Universiade late last month.

After winning gold in the women's doubles, Chan was scheduled to play in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles a few hours later on Aug. 28, but announced her withdrawal on medical advice suffering from heatstroke. As a result, her mixed doubles partner, Hsieh Cheng-peng (謝振鵬) was forced to forfeit the match.

Local media reported that Chan fell ill after winning the womens' doubles with her younger sister, but after a night of rest flew to the U.S. the next day to take part in the U.S. Open.

Hsieh's sister, Taiwan's other Grand Slam doubles champion and former world women's doubles No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei (謝淑薇) slammed Chan on Facebook for abandoning her brother.

The post triggered a wave of criticism, with many concluding Chan lied about being ill at the Universiade in order to compete at the U.S. Open.

Instead of issuing an apology to the younger Hsieh and to Taiwanese fans when the accusations were first made, Chan issued a belated statement on Sept. 10, after winning the U.S. title, in which she insisted she did not deliberately withdraw and was surprised by how ill she felt.

The decision to drop out was a tough one and was made "on the advice of a doctor at the event," she noted.

Instead of answering questions, Chan's statement prompted more criticism.

Many local fans mocked Chan's "miraculous" recovery, with some urging the player to make public her doctor's diagnosis to prove she was ill.

Others questioned how Chan was able to book a flight to the U.S. so quickly, suggesting that as the final of the mixed doubles was scheduled for the day after the U.S. open started, she had always planned to quit the Universiade and booked the flight weeks earlier.

Hsieh Cheng-peng also spoke out, accusing Chan of using her reputation to secure a place in the mixed doubles despite being aware of the potential scheduling conflict. He accused Chan of faking her illness and asking him to play along with her lies.

The head of Taiwan's national team Lee chun-chiu (李春秋) publicly criticized Chan for failing to keep her promise, after repeatedly saying she would finish all tennis events at the Universiade.

However, much of the criticism leveled at Chan by netizens and the local media is hardly conclusive.

After competing seven matches in four days in extremely hot weather with only one hour before the next mixed doubles match with Hsieh, it is not inconceivable Chan suffered from heatstroke; certainly several other players did during the Universiade.

In addition, with a proper supply of fluids and rest any athlete could have recovered and boarded a flight to the U.S. the following day.

Moreover, flights can always be found if you are prepared to pay the price. They do not have to be booked weeks in advance, as claimed by some netizens.

It is also hardly surprising that as a professional tennis player, Chan might give priority to her own career.

In other words, this dispute is seemingly about more than Chan's decision to choose the U.S. Open over the Universiade.

A source familiar with Taiwan's sports scene told the Central News Agency that while people understand an athlete doing what is best for his or her own career, what Taiwanese cannot abide is the sort of influence peddling in which the Chan team allegedly engages and what many see as Chan's unwillingness to give younger players a chance at the Universiade by monopolizing opportunities at the games despite her apparent scheduling difficulties.

Why then did Chan insist on participating in two events at the Universiade despite knowing the U.S. Open doubles started almost immediately after the Taipei games?

The source told CNA that the Chan sisters had just signed an agent contract with HIM International Music (華研國際音樂股份有限公 司), a local record label and artist management company.

As a result, Chan needed as much local exposure as possible to help with future sponsorship in Taiwan, she noted.

This could be one reason for her decision to compete in two events at the Taipei Universiade.

Even though as an athlete she did nothing wrong, Chan herself and her agent's overconfidence in taking on such an intense schedule has made her a polarizing figure in Taiwan.

The situation was made worse by Chan's belated and half-hearted apology which was made only after she won the U.S. Open.

Her unfavorable reputation is likely to hinder Chan's development in Taiwan for a long time to come, the source said, adding that this is the worst case scenario for PR crisis management.

Another former sports writer familiar with Taiwan tennis told CNA that Chan is "too greedy." "She didn't have to participate in both events in the first place and should have just signed up for the one she knew she could finish."

The source also suggested that Chan could have been pressured by her school in Taiwan to represent the country at the Universiade. The 28-year-old is currently a Ph.D. student at the Taoyuan-based National Taiwan Sport University.

Many professional sports people do not have time to go to school as often as they should and in exchange for their no-show, schools often ask student-athletes to take part in competitions representing the country, which provide free advertising for the school, the source noted.

The treatment of Chan showcases the conflicting demands and expectations of international sports people in Taiwan. You thought winning was the only thing that mattered? Think again.

(By Joseph Yeh)
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