Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Basketball: a sport in denial

A player on the Athletes in Action team — an evangelical organization representing the US — in this year’s Jones Cup basketball tournament was recently quoted as saying that his team was playing for an “Audience of One,” a reference to the Christian God. It is possible, however, to take this reference more literally, because the dreadful crowd turnout at the Jones Cup this time around has not been much higher.

It is not difficult to establish why the crowds have stayed away. It is an invitational competition and does not necessarily attract the strongest or most celebrated national sides — some of which are not genuine national line-ups anyway. It also receives live coverage on cable TV, which keeps away potential spectators who balk at traveling to Sinjhuang in Taipei County.

But most of all, it would appear, local crowds are not interested in watching a competition in which the local team struggles to be competitive and wins one out of nine games.

Taiwanese are notoriously fickle sports fans, suggesting that “fans” might be the wrong word. All too frequently, a lack of genuine passion for sports and teams manifests itself in abandoning struggling national sides that would otherwise play much better with a sizeable home crowd.

The frustrating thing in the case of basketball is that it is supposed to be a sport in which Taiwan excels. It has a professional league, garners large amounts of print space and broadcast coverage and is reasonably adept at promoting senior players to the level of celebrity.

The reality, however, is that allowing for all of the resources being thrown at the sport and all of the self-congratulation at the domestic level, the standard of basketball here is diabolical.

The first problem is that so few attached to the sport seem to recognize this, despite contest after contest of listless international performances.

The second problem is that even if basketball authorities did acknowledge their sport’s pallid appearance, the attitude of smugness and elevated sense of achievement that defines too many of the players may well defeat any chance of reform.

“Attitude” is an appropriate word to use here, because it is also the name of a documentary produced to trumpet the Taiwan Beer basketball team that opened in three — count them, three — theaters in Taipei on Friday and a smattering of screens in other cities.

As the Taipei Times review of the film said yesterday, the film — and the team, for that matter — is hard to take seriously if you take into account the Beermen’s petulant withdrawal from a competition last year because of an isolated violent incident suffered against a Chinese side.

There is tremendous enthusiasm for basketball at the grassroots level, but the system is falling apart in the transition from domestic celebrity to international duty.

We have discussed at length the reasons for Taiwanese sporting teams’ difficulties in performing well internationally — a lack of credible patriotic symbols, Chinese meddling and so on — but for once it can be said in regard to this sport that Taiwanese audiences, players and administrators only have themselves to blame.

The next generation of players deserves better.

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