The site housing Taipei’s landmark Zhongshan Soccer Stadium is going to be redeveloped into a youth hostel complex, the Taipei City Department of Economic Development announced yesterday.
Many sports fans, cultural preservation activists and Taipei residents were saddened to hear about the proposed demolition of the stadium, which is next to the Yuanshan (圓山) MRT station.
“It is the only field in the city dedicated to soccer. If the plan goes ahead, then it will be damaging to the development of Taiwanese soccer. I feel very sad about it,” Chinese Taipei Football Association secretary-general Wang Sheau-shiun (王筱薰) said.
Wang said that many important games and events had taken place at the stadium, giving it a special place in the collective consciousness of sports fans and Taipei residents.
“The Taipei City Government did not consult Taipei citizens or sports fans about its plan, and they should have a say in the decisionmaking process,” he said.
Built in 1989, the stadium has a natural grass pitch and has served as the training ground for Taiwan’s national squad and local teams, as well as hosted international matches.
The site also has historic significance, as it was first developed in 1923 during the Japanese colonial period, when it housed a sports complex with a baseball park, tennis courts and an athletics field.
In 1951, the site housed the headquarters of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG). During the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of US military personnel worked out of the MAAG’s headquarters. Given its rich past, if the stadium is torn down, a part of the nation’s history of Cold War collaboration with the US will be erased.
Aside from soccer training and games, the stadium has also been used intermittently for major concerts and election rallies.
“I will miss the stadium because I attended Phil Collins and Michael Jackson concerts there. Phil Collins was annoyed by the loud noise made by airplanes flying overhead,” said Diane Baker, a long-term Taipei resident from the US.
It is the first and only soccer stadium in the nation to be certified by FIFA and Asian soccer bodies for international qualification matches.
However, the city government appropriated it as the central showcase stage for the International Flora Expo in 2010 and 2011. Afterwards, it did not return the stadium to soccer organizations as it had promised. The stadium is now part of the Taipei Flora Expo Park, under the city government’s management.
According to the Taipei City Department of Economic Development, transforming the stadium into a 170-room youth hostel with recreational facilities would cost NT$500 million (US$16.76 million).
Democratic Progressive Party Taipei City Councilor Wu Su-yao (吳思瑤) slammed the city government over the plan, saying: “They kicked out all soccer organizations for the Flora Expo and then refused to give it back to the soccer community. Now they want to turn it into a youth hostel. This is short-sighted as there are many such accomodations in the area already,” she said.
Some soccer fans are rallying on social networking sites to save the stadium. They want to organize a protest to demand, as one netizen put it, that the Taipei City Government “return the stadium to us. It is our soccer stadium. You stole it from us.”