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Friday, November 19, 2010

Play ball

Sports are in the news now in Taiwan, but for all the wrong reasons, as the country reacts with disbelief and fury over the disqualification of Taiwanese taekwondo athlete Yang Shu-chun 楊淑君 at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. Rather than throw my two cents-worth into the maelstrom of anti-Chinese and anti-Korean conspiracy theories, I'll refer you to an article in the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 about baseball, that shared national pastime among the USA, Japan and Taiwan. The veteran baseball writer Jim Allen, in his regular Hot Corner column, has a piece on efforts being made in Japan to expand the grand old game in the international market, with a large part of the article referring to Taiwan ("Taiwan next stop on road to future"):

"...Nippon Professional Baseball 日本プロ野球 Commissioner Ryōzō Katō 加藤良三 met with his counterparts from Australia, South Korea and Taiwan in September. As a result of that meeting, Taiwan has offered to host a revived Asia Series in November 2011. The club championship started in 2005 and was held at Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム four times. 'It's been our goal to unite Asian baseball,' Richard Wang, the secretary general of Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League 中華職業棒球大聯盟, told The Hot Corner by phone on Tuesday. 'From many years ago, we had a dream of having a champion of the Asia Series play against the major league champion.' Taiwan makes an interesting setting for the Series' revival, considering the CPBL is undergoing its own rebirth nine months after being rocked by a massive game-fixing scandal. 'It [the scandal] was somewhat of a disaster,' Wang said. 'But since then, we've gotten great support from the Taiwan government's baseball revival plan. We had trust issues. Baseball had been tainted with bad influences.' Wang says the government's recognition of pro baseball's role in the nation has been crucial. 'It's not just from government policy, but from law enforcement,' he said. 'This is so helpful to keep the bad things away from baseball.' Wang believes the more visible government role will make it easier to secure sponsors. 'More than just getting their names out in public, companies will see involvement with baseball as a positive thing,' he said.

As a crucial part of today's baseball business, sponsorship - or the lack of it - can make or break a venture. The Asia Series began as the Konami Cup and for three years participating teams reaped the rewards of the sponsorship deal. In 2008, the tournament operated without Konami's コナミ cash and hasn't been played since. In the meantime, Japan's champion and the winning team from the Korean Baseball Organization have squared off in a single game. A year ago, the Yomiuri Giants 読売ジャイアンツ beat the KIA Tigers in Nagasaki 長崎. On Saturday, the Chiba Lotte Marines 千葉ロッテマリーンズ defeated the SK Wyverns at Tōkyō Dome before a crowd of 32,743. The strong gate ensured a profit, but was more a reflection on the Marines' fanatic local following than an indication of the tournament's popularity. 'Making money is good,' Wang said. 'But we need to build this Asian Series. It's our goal to unite Asian baseball. In the process, we try to make money.' A challenge for the 2011 tournament, will be finding a way to include a team from Australia, a difficult prospect considering the Australian Baseball League's schedule begins in early November, just as the Japan Series 日本選手権シリーズ is ending. Teams from Taiwan and South Korea already have to wait until the Japan Series ends in early November to meet Japan's champions. To make international competition work, there needs to be coordination and compromise among teams and leagues, particularly in the touchy area of scheduling. It isn't going to be easy, but when individual owners believe their operations will benefit from baseball having a higher international profile, they will jump on the bandwagon like nobody's business."

It's a good article, and one hopes the professional leagues in the various countries will be able to bring about a revival of the Asia Series. There are many obstacles to holding a true World Series with the Major League champion, however. The season is long enough as it is, and MLB is talking about expanding the playoffs further, starting in 2012. The MLB Players Association would also have to be involved in any negotiations to bring about a trans-Pacific championship.

As for Taiwan, Wang sounds very optimistic on the issue of gambling, but considering all the controversies that have beset the league since its formation in 1989, it's doubtful the specter of game-fixing has gone away.

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