Taipei - Has Pitches, Won't use

International tournaments like to talk about the legacy they will leave behind when the tournament has left a hosting nation. The words ‘legacy’ is often bandied about when the World Cup and Olympics host nations are being decided, often using the intended legacy as a key reason for deciding a hosting nation, especially in the case of the World Cup.

On the 19th August 2017, the Universiade Games rolled into Taiwan amongst much fanfare and excitement. Most events were apparently ‘sold out’ (despite there being numerous empty seats when watching on the TV) as the competition created a lot of buzzes especially around Taipei, which I presume was replicated to some degree throughout the island. The tournament ran until its conclusion on 30th August 2017. The Universiade games do not have the same prestige as the World Cup and the Olympics but the golden word ‘legacy’ was still mentioned often during the run-up to the tournament and it is still something of a big deal for a country of Taiwan’s world stature to host an event like this.

As expected news came out that new 4G football pitches would be created around Taipei and New Taipei to be used for the tournament. It had been expected this would need to happen, as before that there was only one good pitch in all of Taipei and New Taipei and it would be impossible to run the whole football part of the competition on only one pitch. This created some excitement amongst the Taipei football community as now they assumed we would eventually have ‘good’ pitches to play on more often instead of the quagmire that passed off as a sorry excuse for a football pitch.

As Taipei’s slogan for the competition was – For You, For Youth – then there was no surprise that people were getting excited at the prospect of having better facilities to access in the future. However, like the bigger more famous international tournaments the whole ‘legacy’ claptrap can be thrown into the bin labelled nonsense. As now Taipei does have better football pitches, and other sports facilities that were created to be used in the University games; but most of them are nigh on impossible to use for differing reasons.

Recently I have just stepped down as a manager of a foreigner team called Taipei Magpies, who play in the local Taipei expat league which is called the OTPL (On Tap Premier League). I ran the team for five seasons and faced great difficulty in finding a pitch for training or to hold practice games. Ever since I started running the team until the day I stood down, I have been trying to find a pitch for team training that could be used on a week to week basis, when I did manage to find somewhere it wouldn’t last for long as some reason would come up and stop us from being able to use that pitch ever again. So when the rest of the league were feeling fuzzy with excitement that the pitch situation was going to change, I knew it wouldn’t change, below I will share some of the reasons why:

Guanxi

Guanxi just means relationships, and in Taiwan, before you even start to think about booking pitches you need to have some Guanxi stored. The age-old question is; how do you go about building Guanxi with whomever you need to book the pitch through. Some bloke at the uni, a government office or a high school busybody. Some teams have no problem with the Guanxi experience but those teams also have a company or a business behind them as sponsors and that is one thing that Taiwanese pitch owners whoever they may be love, a business or company booking the pitch as opposed to a random bloke with a football team.

Majority of the time the other foreigner teams who already have Guanxi with venues will often outright refuse to help for fear that they may lose the pitch in the future. What these teams don’t notice is that by being unwilling to work together they generally make the league weaker, so even though other foreigners will know the person you need to create your ‘Guanxi’ with they won’t share this contact for love nor money.

Costs

For some reason Taiwan in general likes to price the average man out of sports. I found out when browsing Twitter what they have heard is called pay to play and it’s a damning depiction of a very selfish society. There isn’t really any area, space or venue for young people to go and participate in sports or activities at a reasonable cost. The counter-argument to this is that Taiwan doesn’t have much space or land prices are extremely high.

The counter-argument, however, doesn’t add up and people saying this argument so you can be shown up time and again as Taipei and Taiwan is not the only country around the world where land prices are high, or space is limited. People in Taiwan will just shout this kind of things at you before thought begins to process which is similar to going to the toilet or brushing your teeth; no thought is involved in those actions, it’s just how it is and a natural reaction to someone who sways from the ‘group’ mentality viewpoint, there is plenty of space on riverside parks and other areas (which I will touch upon later). No space and the high land cost is used to deflect peoples thoughts from the real reasons behind why the costs of using sports facilities are extremely high.

Those reasons are two-pronged firstly, Taiwanese society has a hard-on for being a VIP in everything and anything and by making the cost of sporting activities prohibitively expensive this enables the ‘customers’ to buy into that VIP mentality and really believe they’re ‘more important’ or ‘better’ because of it but if a premium is paid to have those sessions in English then your VIP level can be even elevated even more. Secondly, whoever owns, runs, or maintains the pitches want to make the biggest profit they can, and the only way to do that is by charging as much as possible. Pitches aren’t created here to benefit society, people or teams – their sole reason is a vehicle of profit.   So for the owners, it makes no difference if it is used 2 times a month or 10 times a month as long as the profit is still good, therefore creating a VIP mentality is beneficial in this aspect too.

Deposits

Deposits are set extremely high, in what can only be seen as another way to stop pitches from being used. For example, one riverside pitch is ‘free’ to use but requires a 60,000NT deposit per day of use. 60,000NT is currently the equivalent of £1500. So if you wanted to book the pitch for 2 consecutive Sundays, you need to pay 120,000NT (£3000), 3 consecutive Sundays you need to pay 180,000NT (£4500) and so on. For most amateur teams these sums of money are prohibitive as they are extreme. Even if you had that much money saved up, would you really want to risk it on the say-so of someone sitting behind a desk in a Taipei office, for most people I can only assume the answer is no, and that is why the deposits are set so high.

Pitch Protectionism  

Pitch protectionism is what I like to call for the actions of other individuals involved in the football scene in Taipei. While managing Taipei Magpies I would often go to pointless manager meetings and during these meetings, one of the most commonly uttered phrases was ‘I just want what’s best for the league’ what was really meant by uttering this sentence was, ‘I just want what is best for my own team’. When the league was asked many times to share information regarding pitches used by the league they outright refused to do so. This would have been valuable information for teams competing in the OTPL to help them find training pitches but apparently this was not the best idea to help the league as the more pressing concern was making sure teams wore matching shorts and socks and the rule was to be maintained with Gestapo like gusto.

Teams and organizations outside of the OTPL are no better, and it could be argued that they are even worse. They will block book a pitch for 6 months to a year but only have the intention to use it for 2-4 weekends leaving it to stand empty for the rest of the year. This is an extremely common occurrence in Taipei and one of the key reasons you often see empty pitches. Even when you see that it is empty and go to play there, someone will come to tell you to get off the pitch as it is used by someone else even though it’s obvious there isn’t anyone else there.

Most teams and managers know that if you control the information for pitches, then you are most likely to maintain your position at the top of the football tree, most teams in Taiwan dislike competition regardless of their rhetoric. Control the pitches plus contacts and your team will likely be better than others.

Stupid Rules Used as excuses

NTU (National Taiwan University) and Gongguan high school both told us we cannot play on their fields because our boots will damage the grass. Which makes you wonder why they even have a football pitch, but eventually the real reason sinks in and they just don’t want you using it. Oddly another team competing against us in the OTPL managed to successfully book Gongguan School seemingly they must have managed to create some kind of Guanxi with the school somehow, but they did manage to get themselves a sponsor so that might of added some weight behind their inquiries into pitch availability.

I found the Gongguan pitch in one of my many searches around Taipei and told others about it. If we got it we were supposed to inform the other of how, but that didn’t exactly go according to plan and pitch protectionism kicked in.

One school told us we can use their field if we have less than ten people, but if we have more than ten we cannot. As more than ten could cause trouble. We had one school saying we can use it, but only before 5pm because previously a student got cut and now they won’t open in the evening in case it happens again. How bad the cut was, was indeed unclear. One school we trained in, the neighbourhood complained about the noise even though we were finished, packed up and left bang on 9pm every week. The local food shops made more noise than we did.

Odd ways of booking and paying

‘We own this pitch” is something you will hear if you have any involvement with football in Taipei. It has been said to me and guys in our team in such places as: Xinzhuang Public Park, a mud pitch under a bridge that runs between Gongguan and Yonghe, Dajia riverside park and said to me personally at the small NTU Astro pitch where some guys ripped a hole in the netting to get inside proving they indeed did not own the pitch.

Even though every time this is grunted at you it becomes eminently obvious very quickly that they don’t actually own the pitch, those inferring they do firmly believe this to be the truth however contrary to the surrounding evidence. At this point you are presented with a few options only, negotiate shared usage, tell them to get lost, you and your team leave. The last option is an extremely drastic one and that is to argue and fight over the pitch, I have never seen this happen personally, but have seemed times when it has come very close to happening as well as hearing stories from other people about the times they have seen this happen.

As for those times when you manage to make a successful pitch booking, then the person who you pay the money to seems incredibly random. Back in the UK if you booked a pitch, you would rock up to the desk at the reception to make a payment. Here in Taiwan you always pay cash to some random bloke or transfer the money to some random blokes account. It is all very unclear whether they actually have any involvement with the pitch at all, and at worst it has been suggested at times that they may not actually be the correct person to book the pitch from; with the bloke you’re paying the money to overcharge and creating some of the tops, however, there is zero evidence to support this claim so it cannot be said with any certainty.  

In conclusion, it is very clear that people in charge of sporting facilities, or controlling information regarding venues in Taipei are extremely reluctant to share this information with anyone else. The reasons for this vary depending on who it may be withholding the information. If it is league management, then they don’t want to share the information because of the power it gives them to lord it over the rest of the league, if it is some shady bloke overcharging for pitch booking it is because he doesn’t want to lose his share of the income; if it is another team manager they don’t want to share the information because they want to keep the pitch to themselves which in turn helps them get most of the best players that show up in Taipei.

So even though Taipei created a lot of new 4G pitches for the university games it is near impossible to find a way of getting to use them regularly. They are either taken over by people claiming to ‘own the pitch’, people are priced out by ridiculous costs, or the information is withheld from the majority by a select selfish few. As with other international competitions, the general public is left with facilities they cannot use which is often the lasting legacy from these international tournaments. The slogan, For You For Youth, should read For You For No-one.

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