SEYGO & Youth Development in Europe: Interview with Catalin Taranu 5p

SEYGO & Youth Development in Europe: Interview with Catalin Taranu 5p 1

In the beginning of February, the 3rd Winter Go Festival took place in Vatra Dornei (Romania) and close to 200 players came to take part in different events. The most important, however, was that this Festival, had the first edition of SEYGO Tour and it went great ! For more, we have special interview with Catalin Taranu 5p !

SEYGO & Youth Development in Europe: Interview with Catalin Taranu 5p 2
Teaching game of Catalin Taranu 5p for newly promoted 1-dan player from Romania and rising youth star Dragos Boldeanu. Photo By: EuroGoTV

Q: What is SEYGO?

A: Saijo European Youth Go Tour. Is a new series of events dedicated to youth in Europe. It is supposed to cover a serious gap in our youth tournament play scene. Before SEYGO, we had only one European event per year for youth, which is kind of sad. The main goals of SEYGO are to bring new people into the Go world as well as supporting the youth who invested in learning Go. I noticed that many organizations tend to focus on either supporting grassroots development or the top players. They need to understand that it is important to invest in both directions simultaneously, one will not last without the other.

Q: How did the idea of SEYGO happen?

A: I had the idea for a long time. After returning from Japan in 2004 I took very seriously my role of promoting the game of Go. But it took a long time and a lot of trial and error to understand what needs to be done. With SEYGO I think I finally found the answer. If we look back into the last 50 years or so of European Go history, there is really no progress in the things that really matter : higher Go population and spread knowledge about the game among non Go playing masses. In my opinion, taking care of youth is the only way to go ahead if we want to drastically improve population growth. SEYGO has a good chance of snowballing if the start is successful. What determined me to take action were the two EGF Academy training camps in Vatra Dornei and Zagreb in 2018. When I saw that quite a lot of the young players are willing to travel thousands of km in order to meet and enjoy Go together, I was impressed. I told myself that we are ready. After I returned from Zagreb I decided to join the EGF executive and started writing the project.

Q: What are your future plans on SEYGO?

A: As in the Go game, if you are in fuseki it’s difficult to predict what will happen in middle game or yose. Since 2019 is such an important year my short term plans are to do my best in order to insure that we successfully organize the 6 events planned. Already Vatra Dornei gathered 120 youth , we showered them with prizes, so I think it was a good start. I will also look for sponsorship for the project. The only prediction I am willing to make right now is that from 2020 the number of countries involved will double. There are already signs that other countries take the project seriously and are willing to get involved. An essential part of the project is the youth yearbook that will cover a general picture of youth Go in Europe as well as our efforts with SEYGO.

Q: How big do you think is the potential of Go development in Europe and what do you think about it now?

A: The potential is tremendous. But I think for a long time most organizations were doing the wrong things. Right now Go situation as a sport is terrible. This happens first of all because most events are organized without any interaction with the outside world. How can we expect to grow when 99% of our events are dedicated to people who already know the game. For a true metamorphosis the mentality has to change. First of all Go has to become an expensive hobby. Cheap is shunned and distrusted. Still, the older generation that learned Go 30-40 years ago believes deeply that Go has to be a free game. This truly killed the development potential. Without resources you cannot do anything of substance. This generation still holds key places in most European organizations. I call the people that will tell you that nothing is possible, that Go is just a hobby and it should be played for free, that Go cannot be popular because of video games etc. the ‘No people ‘ . Or the ‘Knights of No ‘, to understand this metaphor you probably need to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail 🙂 Fortunately the president of EGF is a ‘Yes’ man and also more and more people from the younger generations chose to get involved.

Q: You are a teacher of EGF Academy as well, another project for youth, why do you think there is not much activity on that project?

A: EGF Academy is a good and much needed project, but for the moment it cannot offer much. Just study is ok for a while but youth need stronger motivation. The training camps we organized were great and really motivated the youth, on a social aspect. Nevertheless , if you want to have truly motivated students you need to offer them reachable goals. For example the insei league model in Japan is built towards reaching pro status, which can offer a decent living. The Chinese National team offers clear future path. And so on. That is why i am about to propose to EGF a new concept, an European Youth Team. This should solve problems like Globis qualifications , anyway some extra is needed to really make it work. But having the team selection depend, among other things, on EGF Academy study should revive the appetite for study and the serious attitude towards the lessons that now is kind of shaky.

Q: Almost all European Youth Champions or players who take up to the 3rd place have always participated in EGF Academy, that’s a very interesting fact, isn’t it?

A: It is just natural. EGF Academy students are the most involved of our youth and also they had access to a lot of information. The fact that they play a lot between them is very helpful as well.

Q: First tournament of SEYGO was held on the Winter Go Festival in Vatra Dornei this February and it was a success. The tournament awarded so many players that finally it looked like there are no losers, comparing to European Youth Go Championship, where most players do not get anything.

A: No question mark on this one, but i will try to follow your lead. The quality of a tournament depends on the organizer. I attended many EYGC and some of them were beautifully organized. Nevertheless, most organizers in Europe expect EGF to invest ( which in turn gets the sponsorship from Asia) . We need to look for sponsors in Europe and for this organizer mentality needs to change. Paying attention to the world outside our Go community is a must. The secret is to build traditional events, create partnerships with important institutions, gain visibility. Perseverance is the most important quality. For our festival, for example, we started the first edition with an unexpected 200 euro sponsorship. With time our efforts inspired the sponsors and this year we raised about 9800 euro in private sponsorship, not counting EGF or FRGO . This is why we could afford to give generous prizes. The ‘No’ people would quickly dismiss it as a Romania only weird situation that cannot happen in their country. This is not true. With proper mentality sponsors can be found anywhere.

Q: Winter Go Festival was on Twitch, broadcasted by Stephen Hu, do you think there is a big potential on Twitch for Go?

A: Yes. Many youth follow Twich and many of them had no idea that a game such as Go existed. The main problem remains though, if they get interested in the game, what can we offer them? Each National Association and also EGF has to find answers to this question. But please, don’t misunderstand me. When i say offer, is not like the organizations have to pay players for playing Go. On the contrary, you offer new players the possibility to spend a decent amount of money in order to participate in the activities you designed for them.

Q: For some reason we could not really catch many people after the AlphaGo wave and the activity seems to have not really improved significantly, what do you think is the reason? What are we doing wrong?

A: European Go doesn’t really have an infrastructure. What do you think will happen if a million people suddenly want to practice Go in Europe? They will check what is available for them and after that maybe few hundreds will remain. Our efforts with SEYGO aim at this vital aspect, but it’s just a drop in the ocean. Even Japan, where there is a professional association, failed to harvest the fruits of Hikaru no Go. Why? Because youth would check the Go clubs and when they notice only old men playing they would instantly change focus to other sports. Everything comes down to motivation.

Q: It seems hard job to teach Go to kids and to catch their attention. You are teaching Go to beginners in schools, connected to the SEYGO project, can you tell us more about it?

A: I used to teach a lot in schools when i returned from Japan. It’s good for the first few months, then the kids lose interest. Now i know why, they need that carrot on the stick. Actually they need many carrots. We don’t provide the carrots, things get boring. After each festival i see and hear how motivated were the youth that attended. After a while they go back to normal. Of course, it’s because they have to wait another year until they can get the same amount of fun. This is another aspect that SEYGO project tries to correct. Before our recent stage 1 of SEYGO in Vatra Dornei we had some presentations in a school and at the House of Culture. This is what i meant by reaching the world outside our Go community. We had almost 100 kids attending at the school presentation, which was really great. Of course, you need to offer them a continuation and here my wife does an excellent job. She is one of the gifted with the ability to reach to the kids. Our Go club population in Vatra Dornei increases rapidly.

Q: Why do you think Go is good for kids and teenagers? What are the benefits?

A: Go helps you structure your thinking and actions. It allows you to be creative. Game after game your are the general leading your soldiers ( Go stones) towards victory or defeat. This in itself is a very strong experience that changes you. You learn to deal with the consequences of your decisions and you learn how strongly emotions can affect judgement. All those qualities combined have a positive impact on real life behavior .Personally, most of the friendship gained through Go lasted a lifetime. I got to see a lot of places in the world that i would not have visited otherwise. I am grateful for all this.

Q: How can people contribute to the project?

A: Well, in many ways. Moral support, get involved in organization, website and graphic design contribution, recommend or put us in contact with a potential sponsor, join the events, make good photos and videos, EU funds programs expertise and many many other possible ways. Last but not least, show respect for our efforts…We are open to any positive contribution, to new team members. Just visit EGF website at the SEYGO tab and write us . I would take the opportunity here to thank our SEYGO team, wonderful people who believed in the project from the start and accepted to share the burden and joy of doing this .

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