Taiwan offers financial relief pitch to ailing sport
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan is to pour government money into developing baseball talent after a spate of embarrassing defeats in international competitions.
The island's team were thrashed 9-0 by South Korea in the World Baseball Classic earlier this month before slumping to a second successive loss to China, who had overcome their political rivals a few months earlier at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A government plan would add at least T$15 million ($443,000) to a budget for four minor-league teams that could sustain a talent pool for international competitions, the island's baseball association secretary general Richard Lin told Reuters.
"A normal professional league should set up a minor league," Lin said in an interview. "I can't see why this hasn't been done before."
The rescue plan will also offer subsidies of T$10 million apiece to qualified, newly formed non-league teams, such as those run by Taiwanese companies.
It would also add resources to train baseball players at schools, from elementary upward, Lin said.
Lin's association, which forms and manages teams for international competitions, would hire foreign coaches to bring Taiwan the latest skills, he said.
Fans, including Taiwan legislators, vented outrage after the losses this month, pressuring the government to act.
"The (rescue plan) means for the public that the government is paying attention to this sport," said lawmaker Yang Lee-huan. "If we're too laid back, mainland China will overtake us."
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
Taiwan's baseball pride surged after the team won bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, silver at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and gold at the 2006 Asia Games in Doha.
Defending champions Japan needed 10 innings to edge out South Korea 5-3 in the WBC final in Los Angeles on Monday.
($1 = T$33.84)
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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