Charlie Blair gets to know the Chinese Taipei Mixed team
As the Under 23 division embarks on its third World Championship this week, it is incredibly exciting to see new teams from far reaching corners of the globe. Amongst the mixed teams are debuts for India, Philippines and South Africa. However, with Venezuela not representing in London, Chinese Taipei are the only team outside of the established Ultimate nations who also made the journey to Toronto two years ago.
Despite finishing 10th in the overall standings in 2013, Chinese Taipei impressed the watching eyes of the world as they burst onto the scene with a 13-10 upset victory against Australia in their opening game of the tournament. The ramifications of this strong performance against the eventual bronze medallists were really felt according to team coach Michael Hu. He attributes many more kids committing themselves to the sport to this win alone, with thousands inspired after tuning into the live stream from his home country.
Hu himself has been a bastion for the sport since first picking up a Frisbee as a college freshman in Taipei sixteen years ago. Initially however, he represented Chinese Taipei in Guts on the international stage while the interest for Ultimate lagged. Throughout the next decade he competed in three World Guts Championships, finally winning a gold medal in Heilbronn in 2000.
He recalls that, in fact, momentum for Ultimate didn’t truly rally until Chinese Taipei won the bid for the 2009 World Games. With an opportunity for the host nation to be represented on the world stage, Taipei’s national body was encouraged by Hu to rejuvenate the domestic scene. Since the World Games is the highest level at which Ultimate can currently be represented, and given the huge global audience that it draws, it is imperative to the WFDF that the quality remains high. Consequently, for the host nation to participate their qualification rested on making the quarter-finals at the 2008 World Ultimate and Guts Championships in Vancouver; a target set by WFDF that the team were elated and proud to achieve.
The by-product of these efforts included much more investment being poured into teaching at college level and whilst the numbers of players remains relatively modest compared to the more established nations, Hu estimates that there are now around 20 open teams at college level, and 12 at club. For the women, the numbers are comparatively lower with around 7-8 teams representing both at college and club level.
Hu laments that the gender gap is particularly hard to close at this stage, as cultural barriers towards women in sport in Chinese Taipei are still particularly limiting. He also believes those few that do pursue sports would rather choose something represented in the Olympics. This is pretty apparent with a glance at this year’s roster, which contains only 7 women out of a 27 strong team.
However, another massive barrier to participation that the whole team faces is, unsurprisingly, a financial one. Whilst they took a smaller, more balanced squad to Toronto, they lacked ten players who having been selected, just couldn’t afford to attend. This time around, the same challenges faced them, with players left behind despite the team this time being able to fill out a full roster sheet.
Despite these issues, they still decided to take a mixed rather than an open squad. Hu wanted to ensure that the girls were not robbed of the chance to play, and credits their desire to work hard to perform on the international stage. It’s also fair to say that Hu is acutely aware of what a strong performance means for the development of the sport he loves in his country. He has worked them hard since November with regular trainings, eight domestic tournaments and finally an intensive week-long training camp before leaving for London. Having had such a good impact in the Mixed division last time, the expectation from both their coach and their competitors is surely there for them to have the potential to do the same again,
Indeed, they have started in the right way here in London, with a hotly contested victory against Germany on their first day of the competition. They were always here to ruffle some feathers, however tensions were high as contested strips and goals during early portions of the game culminated in a spirit time-out at the half. At this point Game Advisors were introduced and calls from either side ceased to be made for the remainder of the game.
Whilst it is easy to point the finger that either side may have simply been taking what they can get until onlookers regulated their behaviour, let’s not forget that issues of miscommunication prevailed until the end between the two teams’ coaches – as could be seen in their confusion over something so simple as how many male or female players were being called on to the line.
In fact, what constitutes a malicious abuse of the rules is itself rather vague. It is easy to forget that in many instances the rules in Ultimate are non-definitive because we are encouraging a communication-based game between competitors. When cultural and language barriers exist this ideal is clearly stretched. But as this game demonstrated, we can still find ways to establish a tone that both sides are happy with. Ultimate is not prescriptive exactly because everyone is encouraged to take accountability for themselves. This in itself is a huge cultural learning curve that many players new to the sport can find just as challenging as learning the actual mechanics of the game.
Whilst a team’s ambitions do not in anyway condone unfair play, different perspectives all have their own stories, and until they are considered we will get no closer to resolving any tensions that arise from them. For example, in a country like China where the sport is not necessarily nascent but still very much developing, big wins can potentially mean a great deal more to things such as future infrastructure relative to other more established nations.
Chinese Taipei’s frantic style and enthusiasm is sure to cause some more upsets to the score lines as the games go on. Like all of the teams here this week, they will learn and grow more in this next few days than in all of their many months of preparation. We are elated to see them here and excited to see how they progress in the tournament!