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The View From Asia

The national dreams sports inspire

The spirit of the game is celebrated by several newspapers in the Asia News Network as their countries' sports stars and ambitions shine. Below are excerpts.

China's soccer dream

Kristin Shi-Kupfer and Mirjam Meissner Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

An avid soccer fan, Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to make sure that his country is on a fast track to earn its proper spot in the top ranks of the world's most popular sport.

To that end, he is committed to deploying China's sizeable manpower and planning resources.

For now, China seems to have quite modest targets.

By 2030, it aims for the men's national soccer team to be among Asia's top teams and the women's team to be "one of the world's strongest", according to a just- released document jointly issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, Chinese Football Association, Sports Bureau and Ministry of Education.

By mid-century, China wants to be among the world's strongest soccer powers.

China being China, President Xi wants to go about this in a methodical fashion.

You could in fact argue that he is determined to take the planned- economy concept to the soccer pitch - even though it has been replaced by a more market-oriented approach in other areas of the economy.

The ultimate goal may well be to ensure that China will come to dominate the sport.

In that vein, Beijing wants to increase the soccer-playing population to 50 million by 2020. Thirty million of them are supposed to be elementary and high school students.

That all sounds reasonable enough, not least as an antidote to the growing obesity trend among China's youth.

Better yet, making his vision a reality will also require significant progress in combating air pollution, given that soccer, for the most part, is an outdoor activity. What should one make of the overall plan?

One possible reaction is to disregard it. Soccer skills, like culture or democracy, are nothing for which one can simply plan, or that can be issued as a "directive" from atop the political pyramid. Such skills need to grow organically, over a long period of time.

Taking that view could be perilous.

After all, it wasn't so long ago that people laughed out loud if and when someone suggested that China would become the world's top exporting nation.

Now, nobody laughs about that any more.

Like it or not, soccer is the modern form of the Roman circus.

It attracts (and distracts) the masses from their everyday worries. And thanks to the professionalisation (read monetisation) of the sport, primarily via ever more lucrative television contracts and merchandising programmes, it has turned into quite an instrument of economic development.

Mr Xi's implicit question is this: Why leave that large and growing pie to iconic (Western) brands, such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, the various London-based clubs, or Bayern Munchen?

It's time to raise the flag of Chinese pride, preferably on behalf of all of Asia, and also in order to cash in to reap the benefits of the Chinese public's growing market share.


Taiwan's ageing baseball stars show fight

Editorial The China Post, Taiwan

Time seemed to turn back on Monday as the once-ubiquitous photo of Taiwanese pitcher Wang Chien-ming covered the front pages of national newspapers as he returned to Major League Baseball (MLB) for the first time in three years.

At around the same time, former Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) star Chang Tai-shan hit a home run while playing for the Tokushima Indigo Socks, a baseball team in the Shikoku Island League Plus of Japan.

The players are two of the nation's top sportsmen of the past decade, or more, but are seen by some to be past their prime. However, it is arguable that their performances over the recent days can teach the nation more than those of their younger days. The talent and hard work that made the two players elites in their respective leagues are admirable, but their refusal to give up and compromise against all odds is downright inspirational.

The 36-year-old Wang made his MLB debut in 2005 playing for the New York Yankees and won a whopping 19 games over the next two years. While he was not the first Taiwanese baseball player to reach the big league (he was the fourth), he was seen as the first to reach the top of it.

Wang's fate took a downward turn after a foot injury in 2008. He was released by the Yankees in 2009, pitched for the Washington National in 2011 and 2012 and for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013.

He struggled to return to his top form and became a free agent in October the same year.

In recent years, there had been doubts about whether the ageing pitcher could ever return to the MLB.

Despite many calls for him to come back to Taiwan, where he would no doubt be royally welcomed, or to play in Japan, Wang chose to stay in the United States, grinding through the tough days in the minor league, insisting on his dream of returning to the top arena of world baseball.

Chang, a slugger, has been a household name in Taiwan for more than a decade. He was frequently enlisted to the Chinese Taipei national baseball team and is the holder of the CPBL's home-run record.

However, as he turned 34, Chang was asked by his team, the Sinon Bulls, to hang up his bat and become a coach. He refused and was traded to the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions in 2010.

Five years later, he was asked the same by his new team. He again rejected and left the CPBL.

The examples of Wang and Chang are valuable as they show the nation how to keep fighting even when others are advising them - some no doubt out of genuine kindness - to compromise and take the easier road.


Opportunities and will make for a world champ

Editorial The Nation, Thailand


Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon in action on Sunday during the women's finals of the OUE Singapore Open, where she beat Chinese player Sun Yu.  ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

There is much to learn from the thrilling story of Ratchanok "Nong May" Intanon.

This time last year, Ratchanok gave the kingdom a tremendous morale boost when she became our first all-Asia badminton champion by upsetting Li Xuerui of China, the top seed and an Olympic gold medallist.

On Sunday, she capped that in equally dramatic fashion, coming from behind at the Singapore Open to beat another top-ranked Chinese player, Sun Yu, who was defending her title in the tournament.

In doing so, Ratchanok not only shattered China's dominance in the game, but also earned the World No. 1 ranking.

Ratchanok is beloved by badminton fans for her strong determination and laser-like aim at specific goals. These traits were already in evidence when she won three consecutive World Junior Championships beginning in 2009.

Since then, she has overcome injury, swept past distractions and shed the sense of intimidation that must inevitably arise when facing the formidable Chinese players.

The triumph in Singapore was Ratchanok's third win in a row, following victories in India and Malaysia.

We join the millions in congratulating Ratchanok for her well-deserved victory and world title.

It is doubly thrilling to learn that she has now set herself the goal of winning the gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games this summer.

Ratchanok, happily, seems impervious to pressure and distractions.

Importantly, Ratchanok has always been able to count on solid support from family and colleagues.

From a young age, she has been given and earned the chances to develop her gift and rise from local competition to the world stage, contesting at the toughest levels. Now, still only 21, she owns the summit.

Therein lies another key lesson in Ratchanok's triumph. To excel in athletics, players need the opportunity to constantly compete, test their skills against others and become familiar with the venues, the crowds, the possibilities and the limitations.

Parents, to start with, and coaches, later, need to provide these chances if they think their young player has potential.

And the youngsters who dream of fame ought to be taking note of how her strong will, hard work, passion and focus combined to create an unstoppable force.


•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.network

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'The national dreams sports inspire'. Print Edition | Subscribe