Thursday, October 12, 2017

[Friday Seminar Recap] Between Mainstreaming and Marginalization: Kabaddi and Local-Global Disjuncture in Taiwan

Date: October 6, 2017
Speaker: Wyman Tang Wai-man (Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Title: Between Mainstreaming and Marginalization: Kabaddi and Local-Global Disjuncture in Taiwan 

Dr. Wyman Tang

Kabaddi is a traditional game popular in South Asia. As it is simple and requires no instruments, it is called “game of the masses”. Under the influence of the nationalist movement in India, this game was formalized and standardized into National kabaddi, which has been promoted to other countries and played in international games since 1990.

Dr. Tang first looked into why Taiwanese players are interested in playing kabaddi. After the Doha Asian Game in 2006, a Taiwan businessman brought Kabaddi to Taiwan. In Taiwan, Kabaddi is often thought of as “an Asian game for Asians”—since there are weight limits (85kg for male, 70kg for female), it is thought to be suitable for the smaller bodies of Asians. While such a discourse sounds like the popular racial discourse in sports, Dr. Tang argued that what people want to emphasize is an ideal that Kabaddi should be an inclusive game, which is not dominated by particularly strong and huge people but can also be played by different people with smaller body size. Having said that, Dr. Tang discovered that in practice, Kabaddi players do make many efforts to gain weight and approach the weight limit, though still believing that Taiwanese are born to play kabaddi. Also, this new sport gives new hope to many “elite athletes” who showed talent in sports during secondary schools yet failed to reach the top level. They shifted to kabaddi, which is still less competitive than the traditional sports, with the hope that it can give them the opportunities to join the national team.

Another major group of kabaddi players in Taiwan are the indigenous people. The popular discourse follows the ethnic stereotype, i.e. indigenous people are better at playing sports. In the media, some indigenous kabaddi players also compare playing kabaddi with their childhood experience of hunting. However, Dr. Tang’s conversations with indigenous players show that most of them do not believe there is a significant bodily difference between Han Chinese and indigenous players. What is indeed happening, as school teachers explain to Dr. Tang, is that for the indigenous students, their families are less likely to be able to afford tuition classes from secondary school onwards. To play sports and go through the elite athlete scheme is an alternative method to enter university without good academic results, and kabaddi is cheaper and less competitive compared with other sports. This is why indigenous students have a higher participation rate in kabaddi.

Then, how is it like to play kabaddi in Taiwan? Dr. Tang introduced that in 2008, Taiwan was recognized as a member in the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF). Since then, Taiwanese team has been participating in the international tournament. In 2014, the Professional Kabaddi League (PKL) was established in India, and two Taiwanese players have joined the league so far.

In Taiwan, having the opportunity to join the national team and play in international matches is very important. Many jobs in the sports field are low-paying and unpromising. The ideal career for an athlete is to become a school PE teacher as it gives a stable, good income. Yet, through the formal channel, the chance was small. By contrast, if a player can join the national team and play in the international game, their chance to become a licensed coach in a school will be raised to a great extent. However, Dr. Tang pointed out that the Taiwanese team’s chance of participation in various international games are still very limited.

So, Dr. Tang asked, why are the opportunities for Taiwanese kabaddi players so limited? He answered this question by analyzing the global politics in kabaddi. India is an emerging economy. The profits generated in the PKL are not enough for promotion of kabaddi in wealthier countries. On the contrary, money flow from these countries to India, if they want to join the India-centered global kabaddi club. For the poorer countries, IKF send them various resources to develop kabaddi, looking forward to a good return from selling products and broadcast rights in the long run. Taiwan, however, is in an embarrassing position. Taiwan developed kabaddi without the support from the government, and India can reap little direct benefits from Taiwan to India. Dr. Tang argued that the in-between role of Taiwan – neither too poor, unlike Nepal, nor too rich, unlike Japan – made it difficult for Taiwan to get on the kabaddi train.

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