Thu, Jul 23, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Athletes not the only stars at World Games

By Richard Hazeldine  /  STAFF REPORTER , KAOHSIUNG

Two members of the korfball cheerleading team pose during a break in the Taiwan-Portugal match at the Kaohsiung Normal University gym on Friday.

PHOTO: RICHARD HAZELDINE, TAIPEI TIMES

One of the highlights of the World Games so far has been the numerous colorful sets of supporters cheering on their favorite athletes.

Of them all, probably the craziest bunch in Kaohsiung are the Swiss fistball fans.

The fistball addicts, dressed in the red and white of the Swiss national flag, endeared themselves to countless locals during the four-day fistball tournament with their big smiles, friendly nature and catchy chants, ensuring everyone at the stadium enjoyed themselves.

Roman Mattle, 52, from the Swiss town of Frauenfeld, is president of the CFFN, or the National Friends of Fistball Club.

Mattle is a travel agent and uses his professional contacts to organize travel plans for the team, plus any fans who want to follow their fistball heroes around the world. Club members pay 100 Swiss francs (US$94) a year in fees, money that goes to supporting the team.

Speaking over fried noodles and a beer during a break in the fistball action on Sunday, Mattle said last year the club took 96 supporters to a tournament in Namibia.

For the World Games, Mattle organized a 12-day trip for 17 fans and the players that included a few days in Taipei and a sightseeing trip down the east coast to Taroko Gorge and Hualien before arriving in Kaohsiung for the tournament. The group was also due to stop over in Hong Kong on the way back.

And despite the disappointment of seeing their heroes lose in the final, Mattle said the trip was worth it.

“The Taiwanese people are very friendly, helpful. Although we cannot understand one word of the language, we don’t need to. We just need our hands, our faces and our smiles to connect with them,” he said, adding, “We go back to Switzerland and we say Taiwan is one of the best countries outside Europe. We will come back for sure.”

But the Swiss fistball fanatics are not without Taiwanese competition, as anyone who attended a korfball match would know.

For each time the bronze-medal winning korfball team was in action the stands were packed with throngs of noisy, yellow-clad supporters.

Most of them, said Yang Rong-guang, a 26-year-old korfball coach, hail from two schools in Taipei where the sport is popular, Wan Fang Senior High School and Hu Jiang High School.

Talking before Monday’s semi-final against the Netherlands, he said around 75 fans had traveled to Kaohsiung for six days in order to give the Taiwan korfball team some vocal encouragement. Many others came on their own, he said.

And although they failed to inspire the team to victory, there is no doubt the team appreciated their efforts.

Another noisy contingent are the red-shirted fans of Taiwan’s highly successful ladies tug of war team, who bought 140 extremely vocal supporters from Changhua to cheer on the gold-medal winners during Sunday’s competition.

Cheerleading team member Chen Cheng-long said its members are extremely proud of the girls, who hail from the county, and they follow them wherever they compete, including a trip to Italy last year for the world indoor championships.

Cheerleading is of course much easier when your team is as successful as Taiwan’s ladies. But win or lose, the presence of these “fan-atics” has certainly helped to make the World Games a really enjoyable experience.

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