Star athletes and their impeccable performances in large international sporting events such as the Olympics, Asian Games, Universiade, World Baseball Classic and FIFA World Cup often capture the attention of interested viewers in Taiwan. However, such attention has prolonged unexpectedly after the passing of the recent Rio Olympics, as past and present controversies within the industry have surfaced leading to waves of discontent voices pushing for sports reform in Taiwan. In particular, these calls for action have aimed directly at individual sports associations.
So why have sports associations come under fire to criticisms? This is because athletic and sports associations in Taiwan hold the absolute power over vital matters including the selection of athletes, the participation in games, as well as the subsidies and grants to be given to individuals. These internal decision-making procedures are extremely opaque, and athletes are often left without any recourse for help or appeal. Furthermore, it exposes the inadequacy and inefficiency of our domestic sports law regime.
Currently, there are only 22 articles under the National Sports Law that serves as the main legal norm regulating amateur sports. Under Article 8 paragraphs 1 and 2 that regulate individual sports associations, it states that: “the various public welfare sports organizations established by the public in accordance with the law shall be subject to the guidance and regular assessment by the competent authorities. The assessment items in the preceding paragraph shall include the public’s participation in planning”. However, the law has failed to stipulate exactly what and how are the competent authorities to give guidance or to assess. Furthermore, the 2016 amendment that included the public’s participation in planning lacks both substance and procedure, despite the Sports Department’s persistent effort and announcement in 2002 that sought to provide instructions on the national sports organizations guidance and assessment. The lack of relevant standards to follow resulting in the sports associations’ absolute autonomy have created endless problems in Taiwan, such as fraud and other controversial matters.
In light of these issues, the Ministry of Education has urgently amended the national sports organization guidance and assessment procedures promulgated on October 20, 2016. Under such amendment, the three main goals of Taiwan’s sports reform are: (1) financial transparency; (2) specialization of the operation; and (3) the objective assessment of performance. It also plans to establish an arbitration mechanism to deal with related disputes. However, due to the current wide gaps in sports regulations in Taiwan, it is likely that such amendment will offer little assistance to the larger underlying problems. In fact, the outbreak of the current controversies in the media is just the tip of the iceberg. The competent authorities and legislators must face and solve the problems evident in the sports industry and within the realm of amateur sports.