Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Patriotism, but at the Right Price ; Taiwanese Tennis Player Considers Passport Swap for Endorsement Deal

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Patriotism, but at the Right Price ; Taiwanese Tennis Player Considers Passport Swap for Endorsement Deal

Article excerpt

The Taiwan tennis star Hsieh Su-wei, the island's first Wimbledon titlist, may be willing to become a citizen of China if the right endorsement deal comes along.

How much is a sponsorship deal worth? A different passport, apparently.

A Taiwanese tennis champion has tapped into her homeland's deep political insecurities after it was announced that she was willing to become a citizen of China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province. That is, if she gets the right endorsement contract.

Taiwan celebrated this month when Hsieh Su-wei, 27, became the first tennis player from the self-governing island to win a title in a Grand Slam tennis tournament, claiming the women's doubles championship at Wimbledon with Shuai Peng of China. Upon her return to Taiwan, adoring fans showered her with garlands of flowers.

But the revelry soon turned to outrage when Hsieh's father said that a Chinese liquor company had offered her 10 million renminbi, or $1.63 million, a year to represent the remote province of Qinghai in China's national sports competition, which he said would require renouncing her Taiwan citizenship.

"Su-wei might have to become a mainlander to play in the National Games, but we prefer that doesn't happen," her father, Hsieh Tzu- lung, said in a phone interview Thursday.

China has refused to recognize Taiwan as a separate country since the end of a bloody civil war in the 1940s that left the island in the hands of the defeated nationalists. While the erstwhile foes have warmed to each other as China's economic power has grown in recent years, Beijing has vowed to forcibly retake Taiwan if it officially declares independence. The political stalemate reaches into the realm of sports, where Taiwan must enter international competitions as Chinese Taipei.

In the wake of the announcement, major companies in Taiwan have offered Hsieh lucrative sponsorship deals, a move that would save face for a government desperate to avoid a native hero going rogue. Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor has agreed, in a preliminary deal, to pay Hsieh 5 million Taiwan dollars, or about $170,000, a year to endorse Taiwan beer, which will help cover her professional expenses. …

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