Troubles abound in the Taiwan baseball league. A gambling scandal has hit, and the fallout isn't too clear yet. I recently sat down with one of the assistant coaches of one of the major league teams and talked with him about what exactly is going down. Here's how it usually happens, supposedly, though he insisted that he doesn't know of the guilt or innocence of any player in particular.
So after the game, players sometimes go to bars to unwind. Nothing unusual there. Only sometimes they are "invited" to another type of bar, where a bottle of booze goes for maybe NT$30,000 (over 10 times the normal price) and includes extended privacy, expert attention, and some extra services. During the evening, a girl will make known her attraction to the player, and they will go home together. The next day, the phone rings and the sponser of last night's action wants the player to throw the game. The stakes could be quite high. Eyelids started to rise a few months ago when the Bulls, vast favorites over the last-place Bears, lost a series to the Bears. If your odds were 10 to 1 against the Bears to win the series, a big-stakes gambler could make a hefty sum from his well-timed NT$10 million bet, especially when you have a strong guarantee of a Bulls loss.
Now, if you get a phone call, you are free to say no. You may feel some obligation, but it is still your free will to decide against breaking the law. This is where the legal case against these players becomes blurry. Just because you went out, just because you went home with some girl, does not automatically make you guilty of fixing the game. But news reports and public opinion seems to equate the two.
What has been particularly obnoxious about this scandal is the response regarding foreigner players. There were a number of players identified as suspects in the scandal. A few foreigners were mentioned prominently BY NAME in all the newspapers, while the 10 Taiwanese players suspected of involvement were treated anonymously. Next all foreign players were required to be questioned by the police, WITHOUT LAWYERS, where at least a few of them spent the night in jail, despite any corroborating evidence. The league decides to halve the number of foreigners that are allowed on any team (from 4 to 2), portraying the foreign players as the "bad apples" in the bucket. Odds are much better, in fact, that those 10 Taiwanese players have a lot more to answer to.
But the reason for such a scapegoating is clear. This action proclaims: The problems of the Taiwan baseball league are the foreigners, not the Taiwanese players. They bear no responsibility for the problems. Otherwise, the leauge itself might cease to exist, having lost the trust of the public. Instead of addressing the real problems inherent to the system or those that play in the system, find a scapegoat. Interestingly, I have heard nearly the same reaction levied at English teachers for their involvement in the Taiwan educational system. School having problems? Students not performing to their expected level? Blame the foreign teachers, whose accents aren't right or whose teaching methods are sub-par, or whose high standards in the classroom don't properly encourage students.
On a larger scale, I wonder what such repetitions of scapegoating serve to do in terms of a national identity. Is it indicative of a Taiwan struggling to rid itself of "outside" social values? Perhaps it is only to better monitor those outside social values. Yet I don't think so, considering the glib happiness which accompanies consumption of foreign products and cultures here, especially those of Japan and the U.S. And you would have to argue that gambling is a culture brought in from the outside, which as anyone who has been here for 10 days knows, is a difficult argument to make. People gamble on everything here.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a Aussie who was here on business. He noted that he liked working in Europe because, when faced with a problem, they immediately settle on how to fix the problem and move on. Americans, on the other hand, he insisted, would immediately search for someone to blame. He referred to the system as a "blame culture" where it was more important to immediately establish who is at fault than to solve the problem as quickly as possible. I asked him about Taiwan, but he said that he hadn't been here long enough to assess the situation. However, I think the "blame culture" he referred to exists quite healthily in the area of politics here in Taiwan. I often wish the legislators here would stop their petty bickering long enough to do something constructive. As I have been told, "the legislators think that if the camera covers you accusing someone of something, the constituents will be happy knowing that their legislator is working for them." I think this sense of proving accountability is what fuels such foreigner purges and scapegoating. Look, we are doing something to change the system! We are blaming someone. Groundless as it may be.