Wed, Nov 21, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Dome project a harebrained idea

The 34th Baseball World Cup proved to be a wonderful elixir for the people of Taiwan. It was more fun than the wedding of the first daughter, the craze for McDonald's Hello Kitty dolls or even the hatching of a penguin egg at the Mucha Zoo. It also inspired a long-lost sense of pride about belonging to this country and this land.

Against this backdrop of heighten national feelings, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was loudly cheered when he called for the construction of a domed sports stadium in Taipei City to accommodate major sporting events.

There is nothing really new about the idea of such an arena. It was first raised after the old "Egg" dome on Nanjing E. Road caught fire, because of the ill-advised lighting of firecrackers inside the building. The idea was raised again when the baseball stadium on Tun Hwa N. Road was demolished. But the euphoria over the baseball tournament and Taiwan's bronze medal should not overwhelm the reality that major sporting events in Taiwan -- whether domestic or international -- are the exception rather than the rule. There are few compelling reasons for a domed stadium and a lot of reasons, mostly financial, against.

Proponents say such a project would help encourage a sports culture in Taiwan. A noble goal, for physical and mental health reasons and for economic ones. But a goal that is unlikely to be realized.

Despite the enthusiasm heard whenever Taiwan's teams appear in international competitions, a lasting sports culture is unlikely to take root -- as evidenced by the difficulty in sustaining professional basketball and baseball leagues. To have a sports culture, people have to be interested in sports and play them on regular basis. To reach international standards or a professional level, athletes must receive adequate training and support from an early age.

For both cultural and economic reasons, Taiwan's educational system has emphasized getting into good schools and getting high degrees. Even if students wanted to take time out from their studies to play organized sports -- and their parents were willing to allow them -- they have few opportunities. In Taipei City, for example, there are just four junior high schools and four primary schools that have baseball teams.

In addition, Taiwan's professional athletes find it hard to make a living. There are two professional baseball leagues, each with four teams, even though the population base can really only support one league. Many of Taiwan's top players have ended up playing in the Japanese leagues. Basketball players fare little better. The only ones who really make money off of sports in Taiwan are those who gamble.

Proponents of the dome also argue that such a venue would come in handy when hosting international sports competitions, Taiwan rarely ever gets the chance to do so. This is one reason that the Baseball World Cup meant so much to the people of Taiwan.

Another reason the tournament was popular, at least among officials and accountants, was that it was financially rewarding. According to the Chinese-language media, the tournament infused an estimated NT$300 million into the economy. Tickets accounted for more than NT$40 million, while the licensing fees collected from local and foreign broadcast rights brought in another NT$45 million. Then there were all the souvenirs bought by fans, commercial airtime sold by broadcasters and so on.

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