After the Republic of China (ROC) lost its UN seat in 1971, there have been many chances, especially throughout the 1970s, for the ROC to have gained recognition as “Taiwan” in international sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), thus putting it on equal footing with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In researching my doctoral dissertation Nationalism in International Politics: The Republic of China’s Sports Foreign Policy-Making and Diplomacy from 1972 to 1981, I examined newly opened materials relating to international sports organizations at the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The materials recorded many instances of the international sports community offering to allow the ROC to use the name “Taiwan,” so as to avoid conflict with the PRC’s use of the name “China” and its status as the sole representative of China in the international sports community.
Unfortunately, these opportunities were spurned, primarily because of the Chinese nationalism asserted by the top leadership of the ROC government during the decade, a time during which the Taiwanese had little say in their government’s foreign policy decision-making. The ROC leadership insisted that there be some kind of “Chinese-ness” to the name under which the country competed. “Taiwan” was simply unacceptable to the authoritarian ROC government, therefore an ambiguous “Chinese Taipei” name was created in March 1981.
The most telling example of an opportunity that was lost is the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Then-IOC chairman Lord Killanin negotiated with the Canadian government several times from May to July 1976. By the eve of the 1976 Games’ opening ceremony, the IOC compromised by allowing the ROC to use its national flag and anthem but under the name “Taiwan,” or under the Olympic or no-name plaque. However, then-premier Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) declared that each element of the “trinity” — national name, flag and anthem — was de rigueur. IOC and Canadian authorities’ suggestions on using “Taiwan,” the Olympic, or the no-name plaque were all unacceptable to the ROC at the time. As a result, the ROC withdrew completely from the 1976 Olympic Games.
Another example of the international sports community’s offer of the name “Taiwan,” as evidenced in the ministry’s archives, came from International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) honorary treasurer Fred Holder’s letter to the secretary-general of the ROC Track and Field Association, Chi Cheng (紀政), on May 4, 1978. The letter pointed out: “My concern is that if both the Peking organization and the Taipei organization insist on being considered the only governing body for all-China, the majority view is likely to support Peking, simply because of the huge difference in population between the mainland and Taiwan.”
“On the other hand, if your association can accept the change of name to Taiwan, there will be widespread support for your association as the only effective governing body in the ‘territory’ of Taiwan … A refusal to change is likely to be interpreted as a refusal to accept a limitation of your jurisdiction to the island of Taiwan. Many member federations of the IAAF find it difficult to understand the reluctance to affiliate as Taiwan, when the name Taiwan is so widely used in promoting and identifying trade products. Under the name Taiwan there can be no doubt or confusion, and you have a clear right to continue in IAAF membership.”