Support grassroots soccer
We represent local soccer clubs and school teams nationwide and help promote the game at grassroots level in Taiwan. Over the past year and a half we have seen some improvement. However, this improvement is severely limited because of the poor basic sports infrastructure.
Taiwan’s education culture has become cram school crazy. Western universities, however, select students based on creativity and extracurricular activities, not just grades. A child’s development needs balance; it is a mistake to ignore the value of exercise. As John Ratey of the Harvard School of Medicine has said: “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory and learning, not to mention immune system.”
Historically, sports development was limited to a few kids at a limited number of schools. We therefore applaud the Chinese Taipei Football Association’s (CTFA) recent efforts in starting the Taiwan Youth League (TYL) for school and club teams. Through this league youngsters have a chance to play games on a more regular basis.
Unfortunately, the league is hampered by limited facilities, which are poorly maintained. Soccer pitches in Taiwan are all grass. These natural grass surfaces are either too dry and have little or no grass, which is dangerous because of exposed sprinkler heads, or are waterlogged during the rainy season. The Kaohsiung TYL was played on pitches with very little grass. Taipei TYL games were frequently canceled because of rain. The inaugural TYL finals last year were played in puddles at the Yinfeng Sports Park and at the Tianjin stadium with very little grass. This year’s TYL finals were recently abandoned after the first day, on May 10, because rain caused the pitches to be waterlogged and unusable.
Taiwan has beautiful, large stadiums, like the World Games stadium in Greater Kaohsiung. Unfortunately, these stadiums have limited general use. What is needed is investment in basic training facilities to provide pitches in good condition that can be used all year round. The rest of Asia, following Europe and the Americas, is already making large-scale investment in artificial turf pitches.
Although the initial installation costs are higher than for grass pitches, the long-term benefits are many. Astro turf can be trained on at all times, rain or shine, for many years with limited maintenance. Natural grass needs constant watering, seeding and time to recover after use. Astro turf is also a green alternative because it saves water and carbon emissions from lawnmowers. Taiwan’s 16 expat soccer teams have stated their support for astro turf development through a petition signed by people of 50 different nationalities.
Taiwan has mastered the art of elections. As film director Ang Lee (李安) recently said, Taiwan’s government lacks vision. Every time there is an election, top politicians promise investment in sports and how Taiwan will have a team in the World Cup in a certain number of years. Unfortunately, these voting getting ploys have not yielded any results. In fact, some facilities have actually been taken away: Zhongshan Stadium is no more after the Flora Expo.
Taiwan will host Universiade Taipei 2017. Where are the facilities where the games will be played? What happens if it rains? Investment needs to be made in synthetic surfaces so that games can be played in all kinds of weather. The government could even take advantage of FIFA “matching funds” programs, which can be used to help with infrastructure and the development of grassroots soccer. It’s time for the politicians to put their money where their mouths are.
CTFA secretary-general Wang Sheau-shiun (王筱薰) has admirable goals: “Our first goal is for the Taiwan national junior squad to make it to the finals of the under-17 FIFA World Cup in 2019. The other goal is for Taiwan to produce 10 top-level international players in the next 10 years.”
However, to have even a remote opportunity of success, the government needs to invest in facilities and players at the grassroots level (10-12 years old) right now. Ten to 15 years ago South Korea was behind Taiwan in almost every way. Now South Korea’s economy (cars, electronics, brands), culture (Taiwanese love watching their soaps) and sports (many South Koreans playing in Europe’s top professional leagues) have surpassed Taiwan.
Finally, the development of grassroots sports needs the support of local corporations and media. Volkswagen and Yamaha sponsor soccer tournaments in Taiwan and have done so for a few years now. TV coverage of these events from ELTA shows how the beautiful game is gaining popularity. For a third year Allianz is sponsoring two 14-16 year olds to train for a week in Germany, through the “Football for Life” program.
What about top Taiwanese companies? If Taiwan is serious about having its own professional soccer league and developing world class players, then Taiwanese companies need to get involved. Acer, Asustek, HTC Corp, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, Hon Hai Precision and others should be encouraged to participate and sponsor infrastructure, leagues, teams and academies in Taiwan’s three major metropolitan areas.