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Cablegate: Say It Isn't So: Baseball Game-Fixing Scandal

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TAIPEI 003322

SIPDIS

PLEASE PASS TO AIT/W

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SCUL CASC TW
SUBJECT: SAY IT ISN'T SO: BASEBALL GAME-FIXING SCANDAL
ROCKS TAIWAN


1. Summary. Taiwan's devoted baseball fans have been
thrown a curve ball by a high-profile baseball scam
involving players accused of throwing games for betting
syndicates. Thus far, ten people, including a catcher and
a coach, have been arrested in this, the second
professional baseball scandal in Taiwan in the past
decade. In response to the groundswell of public outrage,
Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) and
lawmakers vowed to stamp out illegal gambling on baseball
and game-fixing by tightening security, cutting down on the
number of foreign players hired, and establishing a nation-
wide lottery betting on foreign sports events. While game
attendance dropped significantly in the week after the
scandal was revealed, CPBL and baseball-loving legislators
hope that the reforms will cause Taiwan's passionate
baseball fans once again to forgive their baseball heroes
and return to the stadium. End Summary.

2. After a yearlong investigation by the Criminal
Investigation Bureau (CIB), ten people were arrested in
late July for participation in a game-fixing ring that paid
pitchers and catchers in cash (up to NT $160000, equivalent
to US $5000) or kind (sexual services) to throw games. To
date, only two people, a team coach and a catcher, remain
in police custody. At this point, prosecution against gang
leaders for organizing illegal gambling seems to be
unlikely. According to police estimates, the ring made
NT$100 million (US $3.1 million) over the past year. Two
Americans, La New Bears third baseman Victor Rodriguez and
Sinon Bulls pitching coach Jeffrey Andra, have been
questioned and placed on the CPBL's "watch list," but have
denied involvement in the scam.

Baseball on the Island
----------------------

3. Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL),
founded in 1989, has been the island's only professional
league since its 2003 merger with the Taiwan Major League.
The six-team league was hit by a game-fixing scandal in
1997, when 18 players, a manager, and two bookmakers were
convicted and jailed, shocking the sport's rabid fans and
sending the sport's popularity into a dive. In recent
years, however, baseball regained its popularity in Taiwan
after Chen Chin-feng joined the Los Angeles Dodgers, the
"Chinese Taipei" team defeated its Japanese counterpart in
the 2001 World Cup and made the 2004 Olympics, and most
recently, pitcher Wang Chien-ming joined the New York
Yankees

4. As one of the few sports at which Taiwan athletes excel
in world competition, baseball is Taiwan's national sport
and a source of pride for this island, which has
experienced so many diplomatic humiliations and setbacks.
Because baseball holds such a prominent place in the hearts
of the people of Taiwan, the game-fixing scandal was
received with great shock and disillusionment.

Sports Betting and the Future of Baseball
-----------------------------------------

5. CPBL rushed to condemn those involved in the scandal
and vowed to prevent future scandals. The league announced
new rules, including banning for life any player or coach
taken into police custody with police evidence of
involvement in the scandal. In a bow to public image,
those questioned or named by the media will be put on an
"observation list." DPP legislator Bi-Khim Hsiao, herself
a passionate baseball fan from her childhood in the U.S.,
told AIT that a major problem is that foreign players stay
in Taiwan for short periods of time, do not develop a
"long-term moral burden or responsibility" to Taiwan
baseball and, thus, are more susceptible to bribes and
corruption. Reflecting this widely held belief, CPBL rules
next year will reduce from four to two the number of
foreign players permitted to play on each
team. Furthermore, Hong Ruei-Ho, the CPBL acting
commissioner, said that the league would try to hire mainly
players from the U.S. and Japan, since players from Latin
America are "too difficult to manage and have caused many
headaches with their off-field activities." Hong explained
that his beliefs were based on reported cases and police
evidence. Richard Wang, CPBL's Director of Public
Relations, told AIT that CPBL plans to ramp up security at
stadiums and at hotels where players stay in order to
prevent gangs and gambling rings from making contact with
players.

6. Baseball-loving legislators have also stepped in to try
their hand at preventing baseball game-fixing and illegal
gambling in the future. Hsiao told AIT that sports is one
of the few areas in which government funding has increased
in recent years because many legislators believe that, as
an advanced modern nation, Taiwan needs a well-developed
sports culture. Reducing corruption in sports, therefore,
is a top priority for these interested lawmakers. Liu
Teng-cheng, Director-General of the National Treasury
Agency, announced that the Ministry of Finance will direct
the National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports to
draft regulations to establish a government-sponsored
sports lottery, which it hopes will curtail illegal
gambling. Once the regulations are approved by the
Cabinet, the Ministry plans to launch the sports lottery by
next year, with profits earmarked to support Taiwan's
athletic events. LY member Hsiao said this would begin
with foreign events and possibly expand to include local
events. She said that it is important to offer gamblers an
outlet that would not increase the incentives to fix games.

7. CPBL's Wang told AIT that before the scandal, baseball
games in Taiwan typically attracted around 3000 people.
Since the scandal, however, the number of attendees has
dropped to an average of 2200 per game. TV viewer ratings
for games also have dropped. In addition to plans for
reform, CPBL is also planning activities to encourage fans
to return to games. Starting next week, it will invite
"role model" players, who have refused bribes, to make pre-
game talks to fans. CPBL will also encourage fans
attending games to urge the President and lawmakers to
crack down on illegal gambling. Wang lamented that Taiwan
law enforcement agencies do not take illegal gambling
seriously, a problem demonstrated by the release of eight
of the ten people arrested in the scandal. He also said
CPBL was pushing for the government to increase the
punishment for illegal gambling, since CPBL itself has no
way to punish those that participate in gambling rings and
game-fixing. CPBL has also named a new commissioner, Tseng
Chi-lang, who is the vice president of Academia Sinica and
the former Ministry of Education. CPBL Hung and DPP
legislator Hsiao hope that Tseng can lead the way in
cleaning up the league.

Comment: Scandal Reflects the Problem of Corruption
--------------------------------------------- ------
8. Taiwan's latest baseball scandal is another product of
the corruption that has become endemic in Taiwan over the
past decade. Although recent governments have made anti-
corruption a priority, there has been little real
progress. The fact that the current scandal closely
mirrors the 1997 scandal demonstrates that progress against
corruption has been minimal. A number of legislators have
been publicly accused of close ties with betting kingpin
Tsai Wen-pin, a major figure in the current baseball

SIPDIS
scandal, and other black gang (heibang) leaders. The
scandal has damaged Taiwan baseball's image and fans'
confidence, even as Taiwan looks forward to hosting the
2009 World Games and prepares its application for the 2020
Summer Olympic games.
(Prepared by POL Intern Angela S. Wu)

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