World Cup Taiwan kicks off to strengthen sports diplomacy
New Taipei, Oct. 23 (CNA) A football festival aimed at strengthening Taiwan's relationship with countries around the world kicked off Saturday in New Taipei with 18 teams and a special exhibition match between Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officials and international diplomats.
World Cup Taiwan 2021, held under the theme "One Sport, One World," featured around 400 players from 25 countries playing in 18 teams, which will vie for the event title over the weekend at Fu Jen Catholic University Football Field.
At the event's opening ceremony, Taiwan Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Tah-ray Yui (俞大㵢) said the event has been held for eight consecutive years and used to be known as Copa America Taiwan before the name was changed to World Cup Taiwan 2021 to better showcase the participation of players from different regions and countries.
"Many of them [players] are international students. I hope that they are also enjoying their stay in Taiwan to take full advantage of this free and safe environment for them to conduct their studies," Yui said.
In order to ensure a safe environment, the matches were played behind closed doors to accommodate the current COVID-19 situation, said Chiayo Kuo (郭家佑), president of the Taiwan Digital Diplomacy Association, one of the organizers along with Honduran Juan Fernando Herrera Ramos.
The matches will be livestreamed on YouTube and other platforms, including local and international television channels, Kuo said.
"We hope the games can inspire the public's interest in international affairs by creating new excitement for the audience," Kuo said.
One of the matches that caused the most excitement was a friendly exhibition between MOFA officials and diplomats from embassies and representative offices in Taiwan.
The "Diplomatic Dream Team" led by team captain Jasmine Elise Huggins, ambassador of St. Christopher and Nevis and dean of the foreign diplomatic corps in Taiwan, braved the rain by displaying excellent soccer skills and teamwork on the pitch against the MOFA team.
The "Diplomatic Dream Team" defeated the MOFA team 6-1 in the friendly exhibition that was consolidated at the end of the match with plenty of hugs and handshakes between the two teams.
"I think [the event] introduces Taiwan's sports diplomacy on the international stage," Huggins said after the match.
Confident in Taiwan's soft power and sports diplomacy, she recommends that Taiwan's government consider hosting more international sporting tournaments that would help more people know about Taiwan.
"Something like that would introduce people to this wonderful country and have them coming here to learn more about Taiwan, especially now coming off of the Olympics when Taiwan did so well," Huggins said.
Haiti's Ambassador to Taiwan Roudy Stanley Penn, who scored two goals for the diplomats' team, said that football is one of the most popular sports in the world and is also in Haitian blood.
"Using it well beyond the traditional political means but as a tool to celebrate the support of certain countries for the Republic of China (Taiwan) is a strong image which bears witness to all possible avenues to support democracy," Penn told CNA.
World Cup Taiwan 2021 will feature a total of 33 games before it concludes Sunday.
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