The Chinese-Taipei Football Association Drops the BallTaiwan’s campaign for the 2018 World Cup is embroiled in scandal and controversy. And this has implications for freedom of speech
Football is in the news again, globally and locally. On the World stage, FIFA, an organization wrought with years of nepotism, corruption, and a trail of dead migrant workers in Qatar, is finally receiving the legal attention it has deserved for years. Sepp Blatter, at the head of this death-spreading multi-headed monster, has finally stepped down after almost two decades as its head.
The organization that is in charge of the sport in Taiwan, the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA), has also had a history of dysfunction and disconnect with the fans. Taiwan’s rank in the FIFA standings has plummeted in the past few years, reaching a new low at 188 in March 2015. (Our current ranking is at 178, after edging out Brunei 2-1 in two legs of a World Cup Preliminary Qualifier in March.) The problem has not been a lack of talent, as many players now apply their trade in the Chinese Professional Leagues. Stars such as Xavier Chen and Po-Liang Chen have emerged as leaders of the team. The situation on the pitch is far from hopeless.
Off the field, the CTFA has been an unmitigated disaster.
Let’s just get the worst offense out of the way first.
CHAIRMAN OF THE CTFA INDICTED FOR FRAUD
The 43 year-old Lin Chen-yi (林振義), a former goalkeeper at the University of Taipei, was charged in April for fraudulently selling funeral pagodas (靈骨塔) spots that did not exist using forged documents. He is currently in custody without bail. There have also been allegations of match-fixing/gambling on matches. If these allegations are true, the sport will simply cease to exist in Taiwan.
As the great American political commentator Stephen Colbert once said, what a klausterfokken.
Currently there is an interim administration at the CTFA, which is now in charge of organizing home games in the upcoming World Cup Group Qualifiers. Two games were scheduled to be played in June (only one will be played now that Indonesia has been disqualified by FIFA). For two months, fans have been waiting for access to tickets. There was no information for weeks regarding fan access. Last week the CTFA issued this statement regarding ticket policy, which was then almost immediately retracted.
To get access to tickets, fans had to PHYSICALLY REPORT TO THE CTFA OFFICE DURING WORK HOURS, and REGISTER THEIR PERSONAL INFORMATION INCLUDING E-MAIL. This is coming in an age where tickets for every single venue imaginable are sold online and picked up at convenience stores around the corner. At first I thought the CTFA had issued a statement regarding players interested in trying out for the National team, and not fans looking for tickets.
Basically, this measure would have prevented anybody from going to the game if he/she: 1. Didn’t live in Taipei 2. Had a day job or 3. Didn’t have Internet access.
This, from an organization charged with helping the sport grow in the country.
Registration is also complete non-sense, as tickets are not sold on a membership basis. Has anybody gone to a CPBL game and had to register his/her information with the league?
What’s at stake is access to a football match, not individuals with superpowers.
The CTFA has also decided to ban alcohol in the stadium. I don’t have a huge problem with this, as the CTFA is understaffed and there just will not be enough security personnel to manage public drunkenness, despite Taiwan having no history of soccer hooliganism. They have also decided to ban glass and plastic bottles from the stadium, which also makes sense from a security perspective, except that there are no concession stands at the games, which means fans will have to basically go thirsty for two hours.
The worst offense is statement one, where the CTFA will ban “all flags of a political ‘color.’” This decision most likely came as a result of the friendly matches in November in Taipei, where a CTFA official allegedly attempted to confiscate the National flag from fans. (I’m still going to use allegedly, even though I was about 30 feet from the incident).
Of course, no definition of “political ‘color’” was given, so a fan could be banned from the stadium for a “Xavier is King” sign, because he or she would be displaying the political message of inducing a revolution where Taiwan becomes a constitutional monarchy with fullback Xavier Chen as its head of state.
For non-soccer fans, there is a rule by FIFA banning displays of political messages. The Argentine FA was recently fined because the players had held a banner with the message “The Falklands are Argentine.” FIFA cited the sign as in breach of “team misconduct” and “prevention of provocative and aggressive actions.” However, this rule usually does not apply fans, because if it did, Spain would probably be banned for about 5,000 years because of, well, this…
How the flag of the National team playing constitutes “provocative and aggressive action” is mind boggling, to say the least. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but:
Blatant Oppression of Free Speech Rights + Extensive Registration of Personal Information = __________
The CTFA then retracted the statements amid criticism, and issued its new policy regarding ticket access and stadium rules.
The CTFA did add several methods of access to tickets (although none that involve online ordering of tickets, the actual modern way of ticket-buying).
The rule regarding “political ‘color’” has been changed to “1.請勿攜帶種族歧視、排外、慈善、意識形態及模糊賽事焦點之物品。”
Items with messages including the following will be banned:
- Racism (good)
- Xenophobia (good)
- Charity (huh?)
- Ideology (!)
- Distracting from the game.
That last one is pretty easy to define. Here is an example of a sign that constitutes as “distracting from the game” that the CTFA would likely look to ban from the stadium.
So fans please come out on June 16 to Taipei Municipal Stadium to cheer Taiwan as it kicks-off against Thailand and support your National Team. Just remember, before you arrive at the stadium, hydrate yourselves thoroughly, and self-censor what signs you bring to the stadium.
Tony Chiu is a geriatric psychiatry physician in northern Taiwan. A graduate of the National Taiwan University of Medicine, he advocates for the independence of Sanchong District in New Taipei City and the paving of the Taiwan Strait. You can reach him at email@example.com. He comments on the PTT board under the handle “IronChef.”