Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Can the professor get local soccer to pull up its socks?

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

The future of Taiwanese soccer is in the hands of Lin Der-chia, general secretary of the Chinese Taipei Football Association. Pictured here at Taipei's Zhongshan Soccer Stadium, Lin hopes the local game will see sunnier days.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's soccer team doesn't even have a shirt and the pitch where it plays its games is rutted and sprouting long grass.

Named Chinese Taipei by the world's soccer association, FIFA, as of this month it's rated 149th out of 196 teams, below Turkmenistan and above Surinam.

Depressed by the nation's lack of soccer skills and intoxicated by the recent World Cup, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) conceived a plan to take kids from their families and send them to Brazil to learn the beautiful game. One pan-blue lawmaker rejoined the president's grandson should be the first to go.

But the soccer establishment here was also unimpressed.

"It's a joke," admitted Professor Lin Der-chia (林德嘉), who heads the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA).

"It's a shame his [Chen's] advisers do not have more common sense. It's not his fault, his heart is in the right place and it's good for us because it shows he cares about soccer. It might help when we apply for funding," Lin said.

It was much the same situation four years ago when Chen trumpeted the Senegalese for their great World Cup run and announced the Africans would be teaching Taiwan to play soccer.

But in October last year Taiwan cut diplomatic ties with Senegal, putting a stop to that "initiative."

Dumb, politically framed ideas have characterized recent attempts to improve the state of the nation's soccer, which has been in decline for the past 20 years.

Even Taiwan's women, who have been more successful on the pitch than its men and are rated 25th by FIFA, have been falling behind the rest of the world.

Lin was brought in last year by the government to head up the CTFA after stints as director of the national sports training center in Kaohsiung, vice chairman of the National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Chef de Mission of the Olympic team to Athens.

The new point man for local soccer was a gymnast, has studied sports science and was a lecturer and administrator in the US before returning to Taiwan in 1998.

Golden military era

According to Lin, there was a relative golden period for local soccer in the 1960s and 1970s, when the national team was run by the military. Taiwan's best result was third at the 1960 Asian Cup, though it co-opted players from Hong Kong to achieve this.

"When the generals were in control of the football association they could just order someone to do something and they would do it. But they only developed a national team, there was no grassroots support," Lin said.

"In the past six years, under entrepreneurs, we have gone down and down. There was some financial support but no team training, no effort or passion.

"Now, we are starting from a negative situation. We have to clean up all the negatives before we can even start from zero," he said.

Lin said the problems he faces include a lack of park space; the long working hours and little time for recreational sports for families and older players; a strong preference for baseball and basketball at school and in the media; and a lack of infrastructure.

He said the CTFA has to rent office space and Zhongshan Soccer Stadium (where it plays home matches) from a private company, though the venue is government-owned.

As a result, the stadium is mainly used for concerts and the pitch is a mess.

"This needs to be corrected in the future," Lin said. "Though the president says there are short cuts to success, there are rules. I'm not a communist, but Karl Marx was right when he said, `History has a law exactly the same as physical laws.' To make soccer good in Taiwan we have to follow the rules and go step by step."

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