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September 20, 2017

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Athlete dreams of soccer-mania in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- In a country known for its love of baseball, soccer takes a backseat, with many fans calling Taiwan a "soccer desert." One of the reasons for the sport's low popularity is that Taiwan's national team, among the 208 squads listed by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), ranks way down at No. 176.

For decades local authorities have been trying to promote the sport, but have little to show for it.

TV channels that began broadcasting soccer were also discouraged by extremely low ratings, as Taiwanese sports fans refused to turn away from baseball and basketball, the two most popular sports in the country.

Some have already given up on soccer in this island country, but one man has refused to do so.

For the love of the sport, he has traveled thousands of miles all the way from Europe in the hope of introducing the world game to the country.

He does so not just because of his genuine love for the sport, but also because of his deep connection to Taiwan.

He is Xavier Chen (陳昌源), a Belgium-born Taiwanese soccer player.

"I am deeply convinced that soccer cannot stay away from Taiwan forever," he said.

Soccer is the world's most popular sport, and there is no reason it can't be big in Taiwan, Chen told The China Post in a recent email interview.

For the Love of Soccer and Taiwan

To promote the sport, the 29-year-old athlete, who was born to a Taiwanese father and a French mother, returned to Taiwan a few years ago and claimed Republic of China nationality so that he could play for the country.

He made his international debut for Taiwan, playing under the name Chinese Taipei, against Malaysia on July 3, 2011, scoring the winning goal in front of a record-breaking 15,335 fans in Taipei.

This marked the first time in a decade that the national squad beat an opponent that was ranked in the top 150.

Playing for the national squad was just the beginning of his quest to merge his loves of Taiwan and soccer.

In order to be closer to Taiwan, Chen signed with a team in China this January after playing for over half a decade for KV Mechelen in the Belgian Pro League.

"After six seasons in (the) Belgium super league I wanted to try something new, (I had) a need to challenge myself. It also gave me the opportunity to live closer to Taiwan," he noted.

Aside from playing for the national squad, Chen also donated NT$1 million to the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA) last month, hoping the money would be used to invite national teams from other countries to the island for matchups. This in turn could encourage more private companies to put money behind soccer promotion and bring more people to the game.

"Of course it won't be easy (to promote soccer) and it (takes) time to penetrate and change people's mentality," he said. "By trying to organize an attractive game for the fans in Taiwan, I and CTFA want to show that the sport is not dead and that there are still people who believe in it."

Deep Love for Taiwan

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