With World Cup fever gripping the region, there is no better time to consider the state of Taiwanese soccer from an expatriate perspective.
With baseball and basketball coverage dominant, soccer has been something of a whipping boy in the sporting community. Most of the whipping seems to come from within soccer's ranks, however. Swiss national Michel Blanc, director of a shipping firm and owner of the Tavern Premier sports bar and restaurant and other venues, is one expatriate who has been stung by the often stupefying sporting environment in this country.
"In Taiwan, you've basically got the problem that there is nothing for football. We've learned it the very painful way, being foreigners wanting to play football, and basically, [they] being very racist, [we] don't want to play with the Chinese ... and they don't want to play with us," says Blanc, who has become the leading sponsor of expatriate soccer in Taiwan.
Blanc was referring to the privately funded Businessmen's League (BML), which he and colleague Michael Chandler say suffers from poor administrative assistance, no consultation on how the competition is run and possible bias against foreign sides by referees. All this, and a refusal to admit more foreign teams, forced expat soccer players last year to start their own competition, the Tavern Premier League.
In an interview with the Taipei Times, Blanc later softened his tone toward the Taiwanese administrators and players, indicating that racism may not be the villain. Power cliques and poor organizational skills, perhaps, or something as simple as the lack of communication in a country where English is relatively poorly spoken. But his point is well made. There is a chasm between Taiwan and everyone else: The expatriate soccer community consists of people from all over the world, of all ethnic backgrounds. The Japanese expatriate team, JFC, for example, has also opted to play in the expatriate competition instead of the "local" league.
But access to adequate pitches for this young competition is difficult -- expatriate soccer adminis-trators such as Chandler must personally supervise pitch quality and battle city government bureaucracy simply to get it to do the job it is paid to do: maintain the soccer pitches at Dajia Riverside Park, for example. When they first arrived at their new home, they were stunned to find a tree in the middle of the pitch (it was duly relocated). In recent weeks, without warning, fixed goalposts were moved and damaged by city government personnel to change a road alignment, rendering pitch markings useless.
But the biggest problems start at the top.
With reports of flakiness and poor commitment in the men's national team that would outrage supporters in any other country, and few good results to show from its occasional international fixture, it is unsurprising that soccer is struggling for good press.
Administratively, Taiwanese soccer suffers from a disjuncture between the top soccer body, the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA; endorsed by FIFA, yet titled the "Republic of China Football Association" in Mandarin) and the rest of the game around the country.
This is reflected in the amateurish attempts to promote the Futsal World Championship in Taipei in 2004. When FIFA president Sepp Blatter gave an opening speech for the tournament in front of numerous VIPs, he was upstaged by several locals who could not stop chatting with one another -- much to Blatter's irritation.