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Major obstacles arise in effort to reform Taiwan's sports bodies

2018/01/10 13:01:29

(Taiwanese badminton player Tai Tzu-ying; CNA file photo)

By Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter

When the Legislature passed long-awaited revisions to the National Sports Act (國民體育法) on Aug. 31, the government hailed it as a major step forward in ensuring that Taiwan's often opaque sports associations will be run more openly and professionally.

A key change made was to require that all of these governing bodies of individual sports hold elections for their top posts within six months after the revisions took effect on Sept. 20.

The theory was that elections would help root out nepotism, get rid of association chiefs who have ruled their sports with an iron first or have been linked to scandals, and make the bodies more accountable to the athletes they serve.

At a high-profile press event on Dec. 20, Sports Administration Director Lin De-fu (林德福) said the revisions had already had a positive impact, as a record number of people had signed up online to become members of these associations and participate in the March 20 vote.

According to Lin, there were 174,596 people who applied by the Dec. 20 deadline, with the national swimming, soccer, badminton, tennis, baseball and golf associations the most popular, receiving more than 10,000 membership applications each.

"The more people join (these associations), the better for the long-term development of Taiwan sports as a whole," Lin stressed, declaring that this was concrete proof that sports in Taiwan are "moving toward a brighter future."

(a list of the number of people who applied to become members of the associations; photo courtesy of Sports Administration)

Proxy members causing problems

That may also sound very rosy, at least on the surface. But not everything that happens in these associations happens on the surface.

Fair Game! Taiwan!, a group advocating reforms in Taiwan's sports structure, warned that many of those signing up to vote could be "proxies" brought in by the heads of these sports bodies to increase their chances of winning and staying in power.

More than 3,000 applicants looking to join Taiwan's Chinese Taipei Bodybuilding Federation (CTBF, 中華民國健美協會) all left the same contact address in their applications, according to Fair Game! Taiwan! on its Facebook page.

Also, among the 174,596 people who signed up online to participate, more than 110,000 applicants signed up just a week before the Dec. 20 deadline, another sign that people were trying to manipulate the upcoming election results, Fair Game! Taiwan! said.

Citing unnamed sources, the advocacy group said in its Facebook post that many associations were allegedly working together to recruit "proxies" to make sure the incumbent heads of each association will remain in control following the March elections.

"We are sorry to inform you that the so-called reform is another letdown to all of us who care about it. It will be an unfair election," the group said.

Other irregularities

In a statement on Dec. 22, the Sports Administration confirmed the CTBF situation and said four other associations -- shooting, bowling, soft tennis and billiards -- were facing similar problems.

The agency said it has forwarded information to the police for further investigation, but its claim that it could take legal action against the alleged irregularities rings hollow because there is no legal framework available to sanction the behavior, a source told CNA.

"Even if people are indeed trying to manipulate the elections in this way, there is no basis in existing law to fine them for such acts," the source said.

Another challenge is that each association has its own rules and charters governing the upcoming elections, and many of them may not follow the administration's instructions.

Based on its charter, for example, the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA) only accepts group members, not individual ones, but because of the new regulations, it has received nearly 20,000 applications for membership, more than any other local association.

The CTFA's charter was drafted by FIFA, so any changes would have to go through soccer's global governing body. Failure to do so would risk angering FIFA and could jeopardize Taiwan's ability to participate in international competitions, the source said.

Consequently, the Sports Administration's hands are tied even if it wants to promote transparency by expanding membership.

The only leverage the agency has in forcing compliance with the government-initiated reform is pulling funding from associations that do not cooperate.

Top athletes joining elections

Despite these challenges, the reforms are not necessarily destined for failure.

For one thing, sports associations can take steps to prevent proxies, including asking applicants to use their real name and address when applying for membership, according to Fair Game! Taiwan!

"It all depends on whether government is serious about implementing reforms," it said.

Also, another revision to the National Sports Act passed last year stipulates that at least one-fifth of the board members of each association must be active or former national team athletes in each respective sport so that athletes' voices will be heard in the future.

In light of the change, Taiwan's world No.1 badminton player Tai Tzu-ying (戴資穎) announced she will run for a seat on the board of the Chinese Taipei Badminton Association, an organization she has fought with in the past.

Taiwan's No. 1 male badminton player Chou Tien-chen (周天成) later also announced he will participate in the election.

(Tai Tzu-ying (center) and Chou Tien-chen (first from the left)
at a press conference on Dec. 21 to announce that they will run for a seat on the board of the badminton association)

In other sports, swimmers Yang Chin-kuei (楊金桂), Lin Shih-chieh (林士傑), and Tang Sheng-chieh (唐聖捷), "Asian cycling queen" Hsiao Mei-yu (蕭美玉), volleyball player Huang Pei-hung (黃培閎) and table tennis player Chen Szu-yu (陳思羽) are also running for board seats in their respective sports' associations.

"I have always wanted to be a board member of the badminton association. I believe it is a good thing that more are joining the associations' reforms," Tai said.

Chou also pledged he would do his best to fight for better rights for fellow players if he wins a seat.

Whether the athletes will have the intended impact depends in part on the legitimacy of the March 20 elections and how much each association is committed to change.

(By Joseph Yeh)