Monday, 7 May 2007

Football in Taiwan

Football (soccer to those philistines who think that a football is oval shaped) has no rivals in terms of global reach and popularity. Baseball, cricket and basketball are nowhere close and have almost no chance of even making inroads into football's worldwide dominance. I therefore think it's a real shame that Taiwan has such a hopeless and pitiful team.

Chinese Taipei - the absurd name that the Taiwanese football team has to be officially known as - is ranked 167th in the world. 167th! A rich country of 23 million people is ranked below Andorra, Liechtenstein, the Solomon Islands and the Maldives. But hey, on the plus side we're one spot above the Turks and Caicos Islands. The idea of Taiwan qualifying for even the Asian cup (let alone the world cup) is risible. These part timers didn't score one goal in the last qualifying competition - and I suppose we should be relieved that they only conceded 24. Just 700 people bothered to turn up at Zhongshan stadium to watch them getting spanked by Syria. The following match, an oh-so-fierce local derby against South Korea inspired 1300 to attend - and I bet half were speaking Korean.

South Korea actually makes a telling comparison. These two countries have a lot in common - "tiger" economies, terrible neighbours, a similar transition from dictatorship to democracy and, most apt of all, an inferiority complex. Sadly, investment in sport is not something they share. Do you remember the 2002 world cup? South Korea got through their group and then (granted, with a home crowd and a suspicious amount of luck) knocked out Spain followed by Italy to reach the semi-finals. The Koreans were drugged delirious with pride at what had been achieved in front of billions. People on every continent were toasting them.

Can you imagine what an experience like that would do for Taiwanese self-confidence? It's a wonderful thought. But it's also less probable than Liechtenstein reaching the final four.This certainly wasn't inevitable.

Of course, South Korea had advantages; it is about the most ethnically homogenous country in the world. Combine that with being the underdog sandwiched between China and Japan and it is easy to see how international sport fired the spirit - and thus opened the cheque book.

Taiwan, on the other hand, isn't even certain if it's a country. But to be 167th best at the only global game is a great shame.


Zeb said...

Soccer is a game for pansies. Taiwan should harden up and play a real sport. Rugby league

Ben Findlay said...

Alright Zeb,

I'm delighted you're a rugby league fan. Although I grew up playing union, league is actually my favourite sport. I didn't really get tuned into the game until I spent a year in New Zealand - followed by 5 months in Sydney (oh how I loved being in a city whose newspapers' back pages were dominated by league) and then 8 more months in Auckland. I support the Warriors and I go and watch them in the Tavern when they're on.

I must say though, I think the NRL managers do an abysmal job of running the game down there - but I'll save that rant for another time.