World Games open in Taiwan; China in the spotlight
The World Games begin Thursday in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaoshiung under the shadow of a possible Chinese boycott of its high-profile opening ceremony.
The quadrennial Games, first held in 1981, feature 21 non-Olympic sports, including sumo and rugby. This year 3,100 athletes from 91 countries and territories will be participating.
But it is the 100-member Chinese delegation that will garner most of the attention, particularly if it goes ahead with a boycott of the opening ceremony to protest planned remarks by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and the communist mainland still claims the democratic island as part of its territory. Chinese attendance at the ceremony could be seen as lending legitimacy to Ma's presidential role, contradicting Beijing's position that Taiwan lacks state sovereignty.
International World Games Association spokesman Hermann Kowitz said he did not know if the boycott would go ahead. Most Taiwanese media reported that it would.
There was no official word from the Chinese themselves, who according to Kowitz had not yet checked in at the Kaohsiung venue seven hours before the beginning of the opening ceremony.
Any Chinese boycott of the ceremony could be expected to anger many Taiwanese, who see the Games as a rare opportunity for the island of 23 million people to bask in the international limelight.
It would come amid a rapid improvement in relations between Taipei and Beijing, including a drastic tightening of economic relations across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait, and a reduction of political tensions to their lowest point in 60 years.
Thursday's opening ceremony will take place in a grandiose new stadium designed by renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito. Some 40,000 people are expected to attend.