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Booting Away Homesickness: The Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition

The 2018 Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition featured eight outstanding teams from around Taiwan facing off at the Xin­zhuang Sports Field in New Tai­pei City for the championship. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)

The 2018 Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition featured eight outstanding teams from around Taiwan facing off at the Xin­zhuang Sports Field in New Tai­pei City for the championship. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)

 

Soccer is a team sport that demands not only physical prowess, but intelligence, co­operation, and selflessness. Training to meet the sport’s stringent standards helps develop disciplined individuals who unselfishly support others. The 2018 Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition featured eight outstanding teams from around Taiwan facing off at the Xin­zhuang Sports Field in New Tai­pei City for the championship.

The majority of Taiwan’s more than 700,000 international immigrants view the island as their second home. As they integrate into Taiwanese society, they are also introducing favorite sports from their homelands to Taiwan, creating burgeoning popularity for new athletic competitions.

 

A team sport that stresses cooperation and selflessness, soccer also requires both mental and physical aptitude. When Thai teams meet, players raise their hands in a friendly wai, a prayer-like greeting that shows mutual respect.A team sport that stresses cooperation and selflessness, soccer also requires both mental and physical aptitude. When Thai teams meet, players raise their hands in a friendly wai, a prayer-like greeting that shows mutual respect.

A medium for sharing

As we look on, teams of workers from abroad compete at New Tai­pei City’s Xin­zhuang Sports Field, seeking to be crowned champions of the Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition.

The athletes, a mix of foreign laborers and professionals, pound up and down the length of the soccer pitch’s international-grade artificial turf in their brightly colored uniforms, the sweat pouring off of them. A row of red frame tents lined up outside the bounds of the pitch brims with joy and energy, as the scents of Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai snacks waft through the air, stirring appetites.

The competitors are white- and blue-collar workers of various nationalities, for whom soccer serves as a common language. Friendly rivalries rather than cutthroat competitions, the matches are played in a harmonious atmosphere and with a sense of international fellowship that allows players to appreciate one another’s skills.

Every team playing in the 2018 Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition had its own strengths, honed by competition. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)Every team playing in the 2018 Taiwan Cup International Immigrants Soccer Competition had its own strengths, honed by competition. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)

The Global Workers’ Organization, Taiwan (GWO), which organizes the Taiwan Cup, held the first in 2015. The 2018 Cup was the second. GWO director Karen Hsu is grateful for the help that GWO has received with the event, and says that that support is what enables it to run so smoothly. “I hope that the competition becomes a platform for exchange, one that provides foreign workers in Taiwan with a means to show their love for the game.”

A total of eight outstanding teams made up of blue-collar workers from Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, and white-collar workers from Europe and Asia, vied for this year’s title. While some of these workers spoke English, Mandarin was the language they all shared, a side effect of which was to expand Taiwan’s “people’s diplomacy.”

A sport for life

Xinzhuang FC, a Vietnamese workers team established eight years ago, recently finished second in the 2018 New Tai­pei City Migrant Workers Soccer Competition (MWSC). The team’s 20-plus members are all from the same area of Vietnam, and gather regularly and often to help keep homesickness at bay. Team captain Khuc Cong Dung says, “We practice every other Saturday evening.” Avid athletes, the players sweat out any sadness or upsets on the soccer pitch. And, as with the other two Vietnamese teams, most of them are from Nghe An Province. Khuc explains, “Nearly everyone in Vietnam plays soccer, and people from Nghe An play especially well.”

Matches can be decided in a mere heartbeat even when teams play conscientiously and with total concentration.Matches can be decided in a mere heartbeat even when teams play conscientiously and with total concentration.

Choa 37, the 2018 New Tai­pei MWSC champions, took their team name from Nghe An’s vehicle license plates. Players confidently state, “We are Nghe An.” Neither tall nor heavily built, the ­seemingly meek appearance of the team’s members hides grit and determina­tion that go bone deep. Their brilliance and team spirit enable them to shine in competition.

Founded six years ago with roughly a dozen members, Family No. 1, the 2018 Tai­chung MWSC champions, have since grown to more than 70 players, who reside as far afield as Tai­nan. Team captain Ngo Xuan Quy says, “We average about one match per month, and support other teams with which we’re friendly.” The sense of belonging the players feel helps them push the frustrations of living away from home to the back of their minds.

Taiwan is my second home

Saptono, the captain of Putera Indonesia FC, speaks fluent Mandarin and views Taiwan as his adopted home.Saptono, the captain of Putera Indonesia FC, speaks fluent Mandarin and views Taiwan as his adopted home.

The Taiwan Indonesia Soccer League organizes matches around Taiwan all year long. The league is well organized, with its own coaches, professional referees, and judges. Sap­tono, captain of 2018 league champions Pu­tera Indonesia FC, speaks fluent Mandarin and views Taiwan as his adopted home. “I love Taiwan,” he says. “Everything about it.”

Saptono says that his team usually plays one match per month, adding that the most difficult part of arranging them is that many teams lack a set pitch for practices and games. ­Chiou I-jen, president of the Chinese Tai­pei Football Association, explains, “There just aren’t enough pitches. It’s something we need to work on.” The association’s first step has been to establish an exhibi­tion platform aimed at increasing public participation.

Part of the league’s role is ensuring that members follow match rules. “Yellow cards result in a NT$300 fine. Red cards cost NT$500.” To accustom everyone to playing by the rules, the fines apply to practices as well as matches. “We also place restrictions on team members’ private lives to help build and maintain a proper team image.” When wearing the team uniform, team members are expected to protect their team’s honor wherever they go.

Local support

There are Thai teams in northern, central, and southern Taiwan. This year’s national competition included two Thai teams: Tafa FC, the 2018 Kao­hsiung Migrant Workers Soccer Competition champion, and Li­ching FC, a club which has existed for 18 years and which finished third in the 2018 New Tai­pei MWSC. Li­ching is grateful and proud to use its employer’s name as the team name. The continuous support of the company’s owner has enabled the team to enjoy its time playing the game without having to worry about other issues.

Chiou I-jen (left), president of the Chinese Taipei Football Association, offers enthusiastic encouragement to players.Chiou I-jen (left), president of the Chinese Taipei Football Association, offers enthusiastic encouragement to players.

Liching competes nearly every weekend. “We don’t have set practice times. Instead, team members constantly improve their play through matches.” The training strategy has developed their survival instincts, and has turned the modest and polite Thai team into ferocious competitors. “We train team members to give their all, no matter what position they play.”

Many members of the Royal Blues FC, the Taiwan Football Premier League’s foreign-players team, and the Tai­pei Athletics FC, which represents the Tai­pei Premier League, came to Taiwan as students. Players for both teams are lively and cheerful, but it is the Royal Blues, known for their regular and diligent practice, who are the favorites to win the 2018 Taiwan Cup.

Enjoying the success of others

This team of foreign workers and students is animated and cheerful.This team of foreign workers and students is animated and cheerful.

As night falls, the pitch is lit up like a painting and the championship match gets underway.

Chiou stands quietly on the sidelines, watching the match intently and wearing his love of the sport on his sleeve. “Soccer is such a wonderful sport. There’s no describing the sense of achievement it delivers. You have to experience it for yourself.” He believes Taiwan’s leagues should adopt international training practices, which give players an opportunity to compete every week. Defensive formations and attacking rhythms both require players to have a feel for one another. Teams succeed when players work together while taking care of their individual ­responsibilities.

The farewells conclude with overtures to future gatherings. “We have to get ready for our next match!” No one dwells on who won or lost this time. Instead, they work ceaselessly to improve.

A delighted Karen Hsu says that seeing the sweaty players and their happy smiles makes her feel that promoting these kinds of events truly is a worthwhile way to encourage comity and friendship. “When you succeed in making other people happy, you can’t help but be even happier yourself.”