David Gold: Not heard of tchoukball? If Chris Huang has his way, that could all change very soon
Monday, 04 June 2012
In his native Taiwan, the country's Government has been actively supporting Huang in his efforts to popularise the sport around the world. The FITB headquarters are based there, and the nation has had the world's best tchoukball team for the last 30 years.
Three year's ago, the World Games came to Taiwan, and to highlight the sport's importance to Taiwan, the Government's President Ma Ying-Jeou watched only four sports – among them was tchoukball.
Though Taiwan is the world's leading tchoukball nation, the sport was actually created by a Swiss man, Dr Hermann Brandt, in 1971. He was a biologist who was deeply concerned about the serious injuries sportspeople could pick up. As a result, he tried to devise a perfect sport that would be based around teamwork and cause less harm to players. In his paper, A Scientific Criticism of Team Games, Brandt observed: "the objective of human physical activities is not to make champions, but rather to help construct a harmonious society".
On this principle, tchoukball was created. The game looks like many other sports. There are two teams of seven players, a field of play and two goals. But in tchoukball, teams can score in either goal. The ball is thrown, as it is in handbal, and it is non-contact, like basketball. To score, the ball must be thrown at square net on a goal frame. It must then bounce into a semi circular area without being caught by an opponent.
Only then does a player score. The theme of "threes" is ingrained in tchoukball. So for example, no more than three passes can be made before shooting, and the ball cannot be carried for more than three seconds. And if a player wants to pass, they cannot be obstructed from doing so.
There was one major problem for the sport though. Dr Brandt passed away just after he created tchoukball in 1972, and although the first game had taken place in France between the hosts and Switzerland, few people knew its rules which were outlined in Brandt's paper, written in French. This kept the sport relatively unknown, but some 10 years later Taiwan decided to spread the sport's popularity and remedy the situation.
In 1984, they hosted the first international tchoukball tournament, involving France, Britain, Japan, China, South Korea and Switzerland. And the sport had its World Games debut just five years later in Karlsruhe, Germany.
"No one knows what tchoukball is and his [Brandt's] research is 300 pages and everything is in French," Huang told insidethegames. "That is why no one knows about tchoukball, and is why it is so hard to go forward. We have had problems in the past because we had 10 years of no tchoukball events. Now I have changed [translated] everything into English."
And so how did the sport get such a bizarre name? Huang explains: "When we put the ball in the net it bounces, there is a noise...thchouk! But now because the material changes the noise is not tchouk."
With a World Championship taking place every four years, tchoukball has a proper structure in place. The last Championship, in 2011, took place in Italy and attracted teams from Italy, Germany, Brazil and Britain among others. There were 20 participants in total – 13 in the men's category and seven in the women's. This made it the biggest World Tchoukball Championships to date.
As well as indoor tchoukball, there are another four variants of the sport. There is university tchoukball, which helps to encourage young adults to take up the game. There's youth tchoukball with three separate levels, for players aged up to 12, 15 and 18 respectively. Beach tchoukball is played on a smaller field with five players on either side. And then there is wheelchair tchoukball.
Huang's personal involvement in the sport began 21 years ago, when he played for fun at university. He then enrolled in the army for two years, but on his return, was given training by the world's top tchoukball coach.
Huang's enthusiasm for the game is infectious. He explained how the FITB has worked to increase the number of countries involved in the game, and how he hopes that tchoukball will become a part of the Sport Accord Convention (an annual event for leading representatives of international sport).
"In tchoukball we are going very fast. Taiwan's Government has supported me with airfare to go to whichever country. I have been President two and a half years and already during those years 12 new countries join FITB." The membership figure currently stands at 32, eight short of the required number for Sport Accord. "We hope next year we can join Sport Accord," he says.
"It is not easy to go so fast...we have 32 members already, but it is not easy to be our member," he adds, and to prove it, Huang explains his membership criteria. He does not want members just for the sake of it, to boost numbers. With a hint of Lord Sugar about him, Huang tells me "if you do not promote tchoukball, you're fired". This is done by a two thirds majority of votes at the FITB General Assembly, a fate that has befallen six members.
"If you do not want to promote tchoukball the FITB will cancel your membership. We need to teach other countries so tchoukball becomes more popular and so they can promote tchoukball.
"In the past there are members, but some countries are not active. If you do not want to promote tchoukball the FITB will find someone in your country who will replace you. I did research for tchoukball to be my master degree; the most important thing is to find the right people."
It is difficult to argue with a man who is so driven by one single goal. But Huang is certainly leading his organisation by example.
David Gold is a reporter for insidethegames