The Reuters global sports blog
Taiwan’s flagship sport is unravelling like an old rotted baseball, a university graduate said, reflecting the public mood of the moment, as she and I waited at a news conference for the cabinet spokesman to emerge with an official response to an illegal betting scandal.
The case, far from over, has put six people in jail and pointed fingers at eight more, including two of the island’s best known pitchers, since it was announced in the final days of October after months of investigation.
Taiwan, population 23 million, wants to be an international player, rivalling South Korea and Japan in Asian baseball. Then from 2008 it lost twice to baseball upstart and political rival China, prompting calls for reform. As part of a broader baseball reform package, the government pledged to stamp out illegal gambling rings that pay players to throw impossible pitches or drop easy fly balls to make bets come true as the Chicago White Sox players did in 1919.
As the anti-gambling campaign got underway, a massive mafia-driven betting scheme unfolded throughout the Chinese Professional Baseball League (www.cpbl.com.tw) summer season, a local prosecutor said. Among the eight suspects are former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tsao Chin-hui, a household name among Taiwan fans, and former Chinese Taipei (effectively a national team) pitcher Chang Chih-chia.
A chain of injuries suffered by New York Yankees star Wang Chien-ming is pushing a pair of more obscure Taiwan-born U.S. Major League Baseball pitchers into the limelight as dejected fans grudgingly seek alternatives.
Fans in baseball-crazy Taiwan, though far from giving up on Wang, say they are looking harder at Ni Fu-te and Kuo Hong-chih. But unlike Wang, a starting pitcher responsible for winning games, the other two are relief pitchers and neither is quite a superhero.
Reporters covering matches between the planet’s top tug-of-war teams at the 2009 World Games in Taiwan this past week would work from the press box of a middle school gymnasium cooled by ceiling fans and run by six volunteers with nothing to do but make sure the computer lines worked.
The actual battleground was the school’s field; a sell-out crowd of about 300 sat on the school’s bleachers after paying just $3 per ticket. International World Games Association officials watched from a lean-to on the grass.
After the globe giggled at Athens in 2004 for letting swathes of Olympics seats go empty, organisers of the far more obscure 2009 World Games in equally obscure Taiwan are doing whatever it takes to pack the venues for such unlikely events as billiards and beach handball. Tug-of-war, anyone?
Whatever it takes, in this case, includes selling seats to China. World Games host city Mayor Chen Chu travelled there on Thursday for a four-day visit, intending to sell the 90 percent of events tickets that are unclaimed so far before the curtain goes up on July 16.
People are praying in Taiwan for baseball pitcher Wang Chien-ming.
The guy isn’t dead, despite a few alarmist banner headlines, but over the past month he has pushed Taiwan’s collective sadness to code blue levels.
2008 was undoubtedly China’s year in the limelight, thanks to the Beijing Olympics. But this year, China’s longtime political and diplomatic rival Taiwan gets the World Games
And it’s not Taiwan’s frenetic, fashionable capital Taipei which will be hosting the event. Instead, the island’s second largest city and one of the world’s busiest ports, Kaohsiung, will be home to the 16-26 July extravaganza.