Wed, Dec 25, 2013 - Page 20 News List

New sport touches off local-expat interaction

By Grant Dexter  /  Staff reporter

A Westlake Old Boys player passes the ball during a Taipei Touch League match at the Bailing rugby fields in Shilin District, Taipei, on Nov. 23.

Photo courtesy of Li Yi-hsuan

A new Taipei-based sporting association has achieved something other sports struggle to do: integrate Taiwanese and expatriates, and has managed to do so in a short amount of time.

The Chinese Taipei Touch Association (CTTA) was formed in 2011 by Timmy Chang. It was recognized that same year by the Federation International Touch and is now in the process of being approved by the Ministry of the Interior. The fledgling association has six months to be officially set up under the guidance of CTTA president Ting Fan.

Since 2011, the association has organized numerous tournaments, cooperated with Taichung Touch Rugby to start an intercity competition, aided the Kaohsiung Rugby Union in running a multi-code rugby weekend at the National Stadium in Greater Kaohsiung and hosted three Hong Kong teams in Taiwan to play touch.

Touch originated as off-season training for rugby league players in Australia in the 1960s. It has since shaken its dependence on that code to become one of the most popular team sports in Australasia in terms of participation.

Touch’s appeal is that it can be played by all ages and both genders. Games are generally mixed-gender and, with minimal contact required, the game is safe for everyone.

The sport has succeeded in Taiwan where many others have failed: It has united locals and foreigners in competitions and teams.

The association’s latest endeavor, the second Brass Monkey Taipei Touch League, had 104 participants, 40 of whom were Taiwanese.

“Playing touch is so much fun and it’s also a great chance to meet many good friends,” said personal assistant Shingwen Chang, 26.

Chang said a friend invited her to a Tuesday nighttime practice session in May and she has been playing ever since.

“I was introduced to touch by Taipei Baboons Rugby Club president Andrew Leaky and former president Best Wu while we were watching rugby at the Brass Monkey,” said Li Yi-hsuan, a 28-year-old marketing representative.

Li said she then joined practice sessions at the Taipei Arena.

“Although playing touch was new to me and I had little experience with the game, I enjoyed it so much,” she said. “The coaches and players were so supportive and made newcomers feel comfortable.”

The association is well supported by local businesses, led by Taipei bar and restaurant Brass Monkey and including KGB Restaurant, Mr Sausage’s Kitchen and Fudge.

“The great thing about sponsoring touch is that it is one of the great social sports. Everybody is welcome to play. This means you get a great and diverse group of people supporting your establishment,” Brass Monkey owner Max Murphy said.

Yet Fan said there were also challenges.

“Getting access to all-weather fields, exposure of the sport to the community and government support” are things the association works hard to achieve, he said.

The sport’s biggest challenge may come from its close association with Taipei’s rugby scene, a sport which is viewed as dangerous by many locals. Rugby players, who naturally take to touch given the sports’ shared skill sets, tend to treat the newer sport as training.

However, touch has a strong international presence, and its own rules and conditions make it a standalone sport in Australia and especially New Zealand.

“We would like to introduce the sport into more local junior and senior-high schools. We would like there to be a touch club or association representing each county in the near future,” Fan said.

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