The Việt Nam team at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Eighteen athletes secured slots to take part in the most prestigious sport event in the world. AFP/VNA Photos
“If you are not by our side when we lose, don't cheer when we succeed,” was weightlifter Hoàng Thị Duyên’s elegant response to those abusing her teammates, after their failure to secure medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Duyên’s online riposte received much support after several netizens targeted Vietnamese Olympians online with numerous insults, such as:
"Waste of rice. Waste of money,"
"So shamed, so embarrassed!"
"2016 Olympics gold was just an accident."
The Việt Nam Olympics Committee sent 18 athletes to compete at the Tokyo Games, with some of them shouldering high expectations to place in their sports' top three.
However, for a variety of reasons they came up short. Those who came under attack included marksman Hoàng Xuân Vinh, badminton player Nguyễn Tiến Minh and weightlifter Thạch Kim Tuấn.
Vinh came to the Games to defend his 10m air pistol title but could not make the finals. Former world No 5 Minh rapidly lost his first match within half an hour, while World Cup winner Tuấn was even not classified in his category after three failed lifting attempts.
"All elite athletes have experienced that feeling. I have suffered a lot. They taunted me, gave me spiteful comments and made gossip about me," 2016 Olympic participant Nguyễn Thành Ngưng told Việt Nam News.
"Real supporters never do that. They support us even stronger when we lose because they understand that no one wants to be loser. True supporters always show their real love for sports and see everything with objective eyes."
Ngưng suggested that apart from keeping an iron mind and optimistic spirit, athletes should ignore negative news and comments.
"They should know how to face the abuse and overcome it. Normally, people look at the final result more than the challenging process that athletes faced through their career. After all, athletes should seriously review their successes and failures, and fix their mistakes," said the national multi-champion.
Thạch Kim Tuấn competes in the men's 61kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. He received online hate after his poor performance in his third Olympics. AFP/VNA Photo
Đinh Phương Thanh was a boxer before turning coach. She also once experienced verbal harassment but knew how to ignore it.
"When I was an athlete, social networks were not so popular so I did not suffer too much. But it is life. Some love you, while some hate you. We cannot ban them from speaking but we have the right to listen or not," Thanh told Việt Nam News.
"My athletes are advised to face the problem and let it go peacefully. Yes, they can be a little sad but after that they should turn off their mobile phones, focus on practising and show good results."
After spending much time with players and understanding their efforts, the Skating Federation of Việt Nam General Secretary Trịnh Thị Trang also stood by the competitors.
“Every athlete goes to competition with one goal and tries their best to make it happen. They have worked hard, spending time and sweating blood for that goal. To reach the Olympics, they have sacrificed many things. They deserved to be honoured," Trang said.
“Keyboard warriors, please stop your abuse and insults.
"My dear athletes, do not care about these stupid words. Many people, like me, respect and thank you whatever you have done. Winning or losing, you are always champions in our hearts.”
Trang is absolutely right. And, thankfully, many netizens objected to the trolling and supported the athletes who gave it their all for a chance to wave the national flag and sing the national anthem in front of the world.
To date, Tokyo has seen Wimbledon reigning champion Ashleigh Barty and world No 2 Naomi Osaka ousted from the women's tennis. World gymnastic champion Carlos Edriel Yulo of the Philippines, and seven-time Olympic medalist and gymnast Kohei Uchimura were also sent home early. South Korean shooting great Jin Jong-oh failed the 10m pistol event.
"It is sad reading these comments. These people should take a day to practise and compete as an athlete, taste injury, and experience the feeling of losing... they would change their minds. It is hard to secure a place in the podium; it is impossible to stay forever in that place," said Lê Minh Ngọc.
She added that if people felt disappointment just by watching, imagine what it must be like for the athletes competing.
Meanwhile netizen Lê Gia Bảo said he appreciated every Olympian, saying they were not only Vietnamese sport representatives but also cultural ambassadors.
"Taking part in the Olympics is not only simply sending athletes to a competition. Many countries have just one or two qualified athletes and none who can vie for a medal, but they are proud to compete," said Bảo. "So don't mock them when they lose a game. These players brought you joy before."
Nguyễn Thùy Linh of Việt Nam reacts after victory against Sabrina Jaquet of Switzerland during a women’s singles match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Wednesday. AFP/VNA Photo
Việt Nam's sport managers also hope fans will be mindful of what they say on social media, saying it is not right to be cruel when players are already down after defeat.
"There are some people doing that, but it is a small number," Việt Nam Sports Administration's Deputy Director Lê Hoàng Yến told Việt Nam News.
"The Olympics is a competition of world-class champions. It is the highest level competition in the world. It is not easy to win a slot. There are billions of people and millions of athletes in the world but only about 11,000 qualified for Tokyo.
"It is huge and tough. One win is hard, so taking medal is extremely difficult. There are only three medals up for grabs but all competitors want them. It is a cruel elimination event."
Yến pointed out that Vietnamese athletes did their best to deliver, despite being at a lower level than some athletes in the world.
She said that knowing the position of the athletes, the Vietnamese team had set no targets.
"We come to the Olympics to know clearly where we are in the world and when we come back we make a point to work harder. The good news was that our other athletes performed equally with those in boxing and badminton. Winning and losing is normal. The most important thing is to do our best in the next match," Yến said.
VSA deputy director Trần Đức Phấn said: "It is a big gap between us and the world. There are only a few athletes that access the Olympics. The important thing is how they learn from the experience.
“Athletes who have good or poor results must take lessons for their later career and for the younger generations to have a better future."
While the winner takes it all, those that came up short can be proud of what they achieved and return home with their heads held high. Việt Nam is proud of you. VNS