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LinkAsia | May 17
Taiwan is demanding justice from the Philippines, after the Filipino coast guard shot and killed a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters that both...
Over in Taiwan, there’s trouble of a different kind. Baseball is the wildly popular national pastime, but in recent years, the sport has been rocked by major scandals that saw players and even a politician sent to jail for fixing games. Our contributor from Taipei, Cindy Sui, tells us about the latest curve ball to hit Taiwanese baseball.
Just this February, a coach and his wife were investigated for allegedly passing on information about his team’s strategies to gangsters. In a sign of how widespread this problem has become, people chatting about it online were not shocked. They seem resigned to the fact that gambling is very much a part of the baseball culture here.
One person writing online said the problem stems from the players knowing the betting syndicate leaders as friends. Since they associate with each other, it’s inevitable that the players would pass on information. And this is what he wrote:
"The reason this sport has involved illegal business is because of society’s acceptance."
[Betting on] all domestic sports is banned in Taiwan. There is a government-organized sports lottery, but it is exclusively for games played abroad, such as American baseball or European soccer.
This person writing online sided with a coach recently investigated. The online writer thinks even the official sports lottery takes into consideration the bets placed through underground betting, so what’s the problem. He said
"As a baseball fan, I can totally accept the actions of coach Lu."
But baseball is more than just a sport in Taiwan. It has been a source of national pride. In the 1970s, when Taiwan was forced to hand over its seat in the United Nations to China, it was baseball that helped restore national confidence during a somber period. At the time, teams from Taiwan dominated the Little League World Series. From 1971 to 1980, Taiwan won the tournament eight times. Even nowadays, one of Taiwan’s biggest heroes is Chien-Ming Wang, a pitcher for the Washington Nationals.
Some people believe times have changed now, and money is all that matters in Taiwan, even corrupting a sport that has been a source of national pride here. This person wrote:
"This issue isn’t about match fixing, it’s about morals and personal integrity."
Another person responded by saying:
"Welcome to capitalism. In this personal-benefits-come-first society, this is nothing unusual."
Some people, however, still believe baseball in Taiwan is, on the whole, clean. This person wrote:
"I will still support baseball and watch the games, not only because it’s our national game, but also because most of the people still play in a dedicated and clean way."
This is Cindy Sui for LinkAsia in Taipei.
Cindy, what’s being done to try to clean up the game?
Since 2009, when a major scandal broke, involving players being paid with cash and even sexual favors to lose games, President Ma Ying-jeou has vowed to create an environment for baseball players that's free from match fixing. He's put his entire administration behind cleaning up Taiwan’s 20-year-old professional baseball league. He set up a special baseball task force that includes the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Administration. They've been asked to set up anti-corruption units in the baseball teams.
But these efforts by the government don’t seem to be working, do they?
It’s really hard to say whether game fixing would have been worse if the government hadn’t cracked down. But what’s for sure is that the sport is at risk here.
The professional baseball league has shrunk to just four teams, and attendance at ballgames has dropped by about 45 percent since 2004. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for teams to attract and retain sponsors. Each new scandal makes companies wary of being associated with baseball. That could hurt the income of teams and the whole sport in the long-run.
In the meantime, many fans prefer to watch the US Major Leagues, especially teams with Taiwanese or other Asian players.
Thanks, Cindy. To learn more about Cindy, visit linktv.org/linkasiaexperts. You can also follow her on Twitter @cindysui2.