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Taiwan launches Asian Pride Games despite spike in Covid cases

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Taipei (AFP) – Taiwan opened the first Asian Pride Games on Friday with a colorful ceremony drawing hundreds of athletes and spectators, as the island moves away from a zero-Covid policy despite a rise in infections.

The games succeed the Straits Games, founded in Malaysia 20 years ago and considered the premier international gay sports tournament in Asia.

Taiwan, the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, was chosen to host the newly named games for 2021, but the event was postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

Organizers pushed ahead despite a sharp rise in infections after the Taiwanese government announced plans to move away from its zero-Covid policy.

But international representation has been severely reduced by Taiwan’s tight border controls that have kept most foreigners out for the past two years.

According to organizers, around 2,500 Taiwanese athletes and 250 foreign athletes, mostly based in Taiwan, are expected to compete in 12 categories open to straight, gay and transgender people.

A performer displays a rainbow flag on stage during the Asia Pride Games opening ceremony Sam YehAFP

At Friday’s opening, singers and dancers took to the stage at a Taipei basketball stadium, some waved rainbow flags and ribbons while drag queens synchronized pop songs .

Taiwan has been at the forefront of the gay rights movement in Asia, becoming the first place in the region to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019.

But games organizer Yang Chih-chun said there had been little progress in the rest of Asia, which he described as “a desert for marriage equality”.

“We have worked very hard to make the event happen in the midst of the pandemic as we hope that by hosting it in Taiwan, other Asian countries can see hopes for equality in same-sex marriage and in sport. “, he told AFP.

Six transgender athletes will compete in the non-binary gender division in bodybuilding, added Yang, president of the Taiwan Gay Sports and Movement Association.

The Asian Pride Games are the only gay-themed sporting event in the region this year, following the postponement to 2023 of the Gay Games co-hosted by Hong Kong and Guadalajara in Mexico.

China is the only major economy in the world that still adheres to a zero Covid strategy and Hong Kong remains isolated internationally as it enters its third year of strict pandemic controls.

Taiwanese aboriginal dancers at the opening ceremony
Taiwanese aboriginal dancers at the opening ceremony Sam YehAFP

As a result, several sporting events and conferences have been canceled in Hong Kong.

For the Asian Pride Games, Taiwanese athletes may compete under the name “Taiwan”.

Gay Games organizers previously said Taiwan should call itself “Chinese Taipei”, the name it uses for major sporting events such as the Olympics due to Chinese pressure.

Beijing considers Taiwan its own territory and is reluctant to use the island’s name.

Last year, AFP revealed that the Taiwan Gay Sports and Movement Association had decided not to send a team to the Gay Games in Hong Kong, fearing that their athletes and staff would be arrested if they waved the flag. of the island or used its name.