Let Taiwan Be Taiwan at the Paris 2024 Olympics

Let Taiwan Be Taiwan at the Paris 2024 Olympics

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日本語 / 中文 / 한국어 / Taiwan2020Tokyo

Update: The Tokyo Olympics have finished, but the fight for equality continues. Support Team Taiwan at Paris 2024!

The Olympic Charter prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin or political opinion (Fundamental Principles of Olympism #6). It also requires that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) maintain political neutrality and take action against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement (Rule 2.5, 2.6, & 16.1.3). The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) is also required to ensure the observance of the Olympic Charter and take action against any form of discrimination carried out within Japan (Rule 27.2).

Both the IOC and the JOC are failing to carry out their mission. Athletes from Taiwan are being subjected to discrimination on the basis of their national origin, and it must stop. 

Every country that participates in the Olympics is allowed to use its own name, its own flag, and its own national anthem. Taiwan is the only exception. For forty years, Taiwan's athletes have been forced to endure the humiliation of competing as representatives of an imaginary country (“Chinese Taipei”) who carry a fake national flag while an alternative national anthem plays in the background. It is so degrading that Rosa Chien, one of the greatest female basketball players in Taiwanese history, admitted that she cries after Taiwan wins, not because she is happy, but because the Chinese Taipei Olympic Flag is raised instead of Taiwan’s real flag during victory ceremonies.

The only other country that won't be allowed to use its own flag and anthem at Tokyo 2020 is Russia, and that's because it is being punished for cheating after getting caught running a doping program. The fact that Taiwan is lumped into the same category is outrageous.

The basis for the IOC's discrimination against athletes born in Taiwan boils down to one main reason: the IOC has forsaken political neutrality and sided with China's authoritarian regime, which falsely claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has recently been threatening to invade and start a war. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) obstinately opposes Taiwan competing in the Olympics under any name which suggests that it is a separate country, even though Taiwan has never been a part of the People's Republic of China. Because Beijing is hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, the CCP is able to exert a significant amount of leverage over the IOC in order to get what it wants.

The IOC's decision to force Taiwan to continue competing under the name “Chinese Taipei” is not only discriminatory and politically motivated, it also violates Rule 30.2 of the Olympic Charter which states, “The name of an NOC [National Olympic Committee] must reflect the territorial extent and tradition of its country.” 

The name “Chinese Taipei” does not reflect the territorial extent of Taiwan. At 272 square kilometers, the capital city of Taipei represents less than 1% of Taiwan's land area. Moreover, recent polling shows that a mere 2.4% of people in Taiwan identify as “Chinese”, whereas the overwhelming majority instead identify as “Taiwanese”.

The name “Chinese Taipei'' originated in a 1981 compromise between the IOC and the authoritarian government that ruled Taiwan at the time, a government that was still sore over the results of the Chinese Civil War which ended in 1949. Much has changed since those times. While China still clings to the past, Taiwan has moved on. It is now one of the freest and most democratic countries in the world, whereas China is one of the least. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, falsely claims that Taiwan is a rogue province which he threatens to take over by force, while Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, does not make any sort of reciprocal claims or threats. She instead calls for dialogue “under the conditions of equality and dignity”

In recent years, the term “Chinese Taipei” has come to be regarded by Taiwanese people as a symbol of shame and oppression by China. A New York Times writer recently asked American readers to imagine how they would feel if they were forced to compete in international events as “British Washington”. 

The name “Chinese Taipei” understandably elicits negative emotions in Taiwanese people, and to the rest of the world, it serves as a source of confusion and misunderstanding since it's not a place that anyone can find on a map. It’s a name that belongs in the dustbin of history. There's no rational explanation for its perpetuation, apart from the CCP’s fierce insistence on it. 

Taiwan held a referendum in 2018, asking voters to decide whether the country should compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei”. Just days before the vote, the IOC flagrantly interfered in the outcome by issuing a letter suggesting that Taiwan would be banned from the Olympics if it attempted to compete as “Taiwan”. Due to the IOC's pressure, many famous Taiwanese Olympic athletes came out publicly opposing the referendum, for fear of having their careers ruined. They reasoned that it was better to compete under discriminatory circumstances than to not compete at all. 

The referendum failed as a result, but not by much. 45% of voters still voted for Taiwan to compete using its own name, in spite of knowing that Taiwan would likely get banned from the Olympics. 

No other country has been faced with such a choice. Only Taiwan. It is an injustice, and it must end now. 

The last time that Tokyo hosted the Olympics, in 1964, Taiwan competed as "Taiwan" and used its own flag. Taiwan should be given the opportunity to compete as itself once again at Tokyo 2020, without fear of being kicked out. 

As president of the IOC since 2013, Thomas Bach should be held accountable for the discriminatory treatment of Taiwanese athletes. Under his leadership, the IOC has failed to carry out its mission and follow its own rules. There is no excuse for it.

As a German who won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics when his own country was divided, Mr. Bach is surely aware that West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany) and East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) were both able to compete at that time using their own names, their own national flags, and their own national anthems. The same is true of North and South Korea today. Taiwan should not be treated any differently. 

If #BeijingBach does not have the moral courage to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party and end the IOC’s discrimination against Taiwanese athletes, then he does not deserve to be the IOC’s president. He should resign and make room for a new leader who will stand up for the principle that all athletes have a right to be treated with equality and respect, no matter which country they come from.

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