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Want to Play Can't Play

The photo above is of a pitch in Taipei City, Taiwan. As the saying goes, this photo indeed speaks a thousand words. The two kids outside the pitch seem happy enough, maybe they don’t have a choice. I’m pretty sure they don’t have £100 in their pocket to play on the artificial turf for an hour or so.... it’s within touching distance, so close but yet too far.

Taiwan’s men’s national football team (also known as Chinese Taipei) has just been taken over by a new Head Coach, matches have been won and there’s a huge buzz around the place. In just a little over a month, 100% improvements have been made in the professionalism of the CTFA’s structure, with motivation to give the sport more exposure evident through the increased marketing and advertising campaigns. This is all terrific news. Now if we take a step away from the nucleus, we continue to find the same problem in the development of football in Taiwan….and not Taiwan alone.

Having an Honour’s Degree in Sports Development, and having wrote thesis’ made up of thousands and thousands of words about main barriers to sport and the implications they have on the performance of sport, It pains me to discover the issues are in fact getting worse. The need to charge a premium for some facilities is understandable and should be expected however, while there is a huge general shortage of available playing areas full stop in Taiwan, their needs to be some sensible discussion on how the general public or teams/groups with minimum finances can participate in football in an area what at least resembles a football pitch (this could be a concrete city one or a basic futsal pitch). Sprinkled across the city you will see numerous basketball courts and tennis courts, with the majority of them unused.

‘BUT TAIWAN ONLY LIKE BASKETBALL AND BASEBALL’ ……According to the 15,000-20,000 people who have been known to turn up and watch the national team play, it seems not. This is without mentioning the kids at school who are crazy about football and if there was more available facilities for them to play, the evidence would be there for everyone to see.

‘BUT TAIWAN ARE ONLY GOOD AT BASKETBALL AND BASEBALL’ ….. According to past results in International competitions, this also looks to be untrue.

Here are a couple of prices some prices for pitch rental in Taipei, with others being an average between the two prices;

Xinzhuang Football Pitch:

£850 initial deposit.

£350 for a 2 hour hire

Fujen University Pitch:

£75 without floodlights

£100 with floodlights

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of enquiring about ‘playing space’ rental prices at over 35 different venues (mostly schools and public facilities). I was met with a distinguished list of excuses why the hiring couldn’t happen, whilst others were priced around £30 or above for a 1 hour time slot (I had a Taiwanese local do the enquiring so it wasn’t even the fact I’m a foreigner). A couple of places lied and was seen with egg on their face when I turned up to investigate that they did indeed have a ‘5th floor indoor hall for futsal’.

Before a party can even get to the stage of paying fees for the hire, they must first go through the tedious process of jumping through hoops because they don’t have contacts with people of power or any significance.

‘ With short term vision and greed, facilities will sit idle and unused. Why not generate more usage and exposure with a longer termed plan, leading to longer term facility income’

This isn’t just a Taiwan problem, many other countries are out pricing participation and development, in favour of personal or commercial gain. The sad part about it all is instead of having many facilities sat idle and unused, a longer-term vision of making a facility more accessible would generate more public interest, exposure and in turn, increase the usage and clientele of said facility.

A pitch like the one below in China can be sought for around £15 for 90 minutes or less with the right contacts. There are more expensive options but since the big footballing project push backed by government funding, there are plenty of pitches to go around.

China also have public ‘Sutu Walls’ scattered around the city, where people can just turn up and play for no cost.

The Economic Barrier to Sport

Economic barriers to sport simply put; if you can’t afford to rent out facilities, participation numbers will be fewer and this leads to an overall smaller talent pool – less people will have access and opportunity to play football. This goes he same if academies or schools can’t afford to rent out facilities; they will have difficulty giving children opportunities to play.

Children are most effected by economic barriers as they are dependent on others to buy them equipment and to pay for their training sessions. So what about those children who can’t afford training session fees but love football with a passion? Most of them will try and find somewhere to play even if it’s on the street and although this hasn’t harmed many famous football players in the game today, would it seriously cause any harm spending some of that money what’s hidden away in the deep dungeons of the Football Associations’ treasure chests?

‘Economic factors don’t just effect the participation stage of football, but also the Elite/Excellence stage too. If players are not participating, then players are not being develop’

When you look at the England F.A who spent around £1Billion on the new Wembley stadium, it’s crazy to hear that grassroots funding is still being limited or kept to a minimum (in comparison to the amount of money put into other areas of the game). So if a footballing nation such as England are happy to keep setting up participation barriers, what chance does a country such as Taiwan (Republic of China) have of improving their current participation situation?

There is some hope! and a nice example of what focused efforts for the game can achieve, can be seen from Iceland. The Icelandic FA invested in over 30 new full size all weather pitches and around 150 smaller artificial arenas thus, slowly turning a tiny country of just over 332,000 people (BBC WORLD), into a mini footballing success story. Iceland have just qualified for the 2018 World Cup and had great success at the 2016 Euro Championships (where they beat England) which was their first major tournament ever, and further evidence that strategies and plans to ensure a brighter footballing future need to start yesterday!

Back to the two kids playing next to the pitch in the original picture. Can you imagine the smile on their faces if the padlocked fenced door was to open, just for 20 minutes or so. Can you imagine how cool the story would be when they was to tell their friends?…..etcetera etcetera etc etc

** Top photo credited to Taipei Magpies FC

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