For the past 34 years, Taiwan’s national Olympic team has been forced to call itself “Chinese Taipei.” An alliance of civic organizations has initiated a referendum proposal to have the nation’s team compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under the name ‘Taiwan.’
“It is my hope that I will live to see Taiwanese athletes being introduced [at the Olympic Games] under the name ‘Taiwan’ as I had the opportunity to do so when I was young,” Chi Cheng (紀政), Olympic bronze medalist in the 80m hurdles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, said in an interview with the Taipei Times.
On Feb. 5, Chi submitted the proposal to the Central Election Commission after collecting 4,488 petition forms. On March 23, the commission announced that the proposal had passed its review and the petition drive could enter its second stage.
Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times
The proposed referendum asks: “Do you agree that ‘Taiwan’ be used as the [nation’s] full name when applying for participation in international athletic competitions and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?”
According to the Referendum Act (公民投票法), which was amended in December last year, the number of signatures in the second stage must surpass 1.5 percent of all eligible voters in the most recent presidential election, or about 280,000, to officially launch a referendum.
“‘Chinese Taipei’ is a name that does injustice [to the nation],” Chi said, adding that of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) 206 members, Taiwan is the only one that cannot use its national title, flag and anthem at the Games.
“We hope to reinstate what we used to have — we are not seeking to change anything, but merely seeking to restore what used to be ours,” Chi said, referring to the nation competing as “Formosa,” with “TWN” as the national team’s abbreviation on the scoreboard at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and as “Taiwan” at the 1964 Tokyo and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
To understand how the naming issue evolved, it is necessary to know the Republic of China’s (ROC) eventful history in the Olympic Games.
The ROC’s national Olympic committee was recognized by the IOC in 1922, and 19 of the 26 members of the ROC Olympic Committee relocated to Taiwan along with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in 1949 after the latter lost the Chinese Civil War.
In 1952, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) applied to the IOC to participate in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, from which the Taiwanese team withdrew in protest after the IOC allowed the PRC to compete.
At its 50th session held in Athens in May 1954, the IOC recognized the PRC’s national Olympic committee in a 23-21 vote.
However the PRC from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in protest of the acceptance of two Chinese national Olympic committees by the IOC, which used the names “Peking China” and “Formosa China” to refer to the PRC and the ROC respectively.
That year, Taiwan competed in the Games as “Formosa China.”
The PRC’s national Olympic committee in a statement on Aug. 19, 1958, said that the IOC “in deliberate violation of its noble charter, recognized the so-called ‘Chinese National Amateur Athletic Federation’ of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) clique in Taiwan as another Chinese Olympic committee, after recognizing the Chinese Olympic committee [All-China Athletic Federation] as the only legal Chinese committee, thus creating a situation of ‘two Chinas,’” and withdrew from the IOC and the Olympics.
The following year, an IOC session in Munich passed a resolution stating that “the Chinese national Olympic committee having its seat in Taipei [Taiwan] ... cannot continue to be recognized under that name, since it does not control sport in the country of China.”
Prior to the 1960 Rome Olympics, an IOC session in Rome in a vote accepted that “the contingent of athletes coming from Taiwan will participate in the parade at the opening ceremony and in the events under the name of the territory where its Olympic committee controls Olympic sports, namely Taiwan.”
The IOC’s decision did not sit well with the then-KMT regime, which wanted to use the name “ROC” to compete at the Olympics.
Taiwan competed at the 1960 Rome Olympics under the name “Formosa” while marching at the opening ceremony behind a sign that read “Under Protest.”
Taiwan continued to compete as “Taiwan” in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and was allowed by the IOC to compete as “the ROC” in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
However, it was the last time it did so, as the UN General Assembly on Oct. 25, 1971, passed Resolution 2758, recognizing the PRC as the sole legal government of China, replacing the ROC.
In an ideological snit over the IOC’s refusal to let the Taiwanese team compete as “the ROC,” Taiwan withdrew from the Olympic Games in 1976 and 1980.
Ahead of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, then-Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau refused to grant Taiwanese athletes visas unless Taiwan guaranteed that it would not compete as “the ROC.”
However, following an intervention by the US, the Canadian government allowed the Taiwanese delegation to compete as “Taiwan” or “Formosa” and let it to use the ROC flag and national anthem.
However, the KMT government refused, insisting that the nation’s official name also be honored.
In 1979, the PRC was reinstated by the IOC, which recognized it as the sole representative of China.
Taiwan and the IOC on March 23, 1981, in Lausanne, Switzerland, signed an agreement that only the name “Chinese Taipei” and only the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee (CTOC) flag can be used at the Olympic Games by Taiwanese athletes.
Citing the agreement, some have criticized Chi’s campaign as unwise, rash and possibly jeopardizing Taiwanese athletes’ chances of participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The critics include Taiwanese IOC member Wu Ching-kuo (吳經國), who said that Taiwan needs to respect the agreement and focus on the eligibility of Taiwanese athletes to compete at the Games.
Chi rejected the claim that Taiwanese athletes would be barred from participating in the Games as a result of the campaign.
“In the worst-case scenario, ‘Chinese Taipei’ would be maintained,” she said.
CTOC secretary-general Shen Yi-ting (沈依婷) on May 19 said that the committee on May 5 received a letter from the IOC stating that it would not approve any changes to the name that Taiwan uses at the Olympic Games.
“The IOC said ‘it was informed.’ There can only be two possibilities: One, [it was informed] by the CTOC, and the other, by China,” Chi said.
“It is somewhat ridiculous for the IOC to say that it would not approve a name change, as we have not even held a referendum yet and its passage would require at least 4 million votes,” she said. “Does it mean it that [China] is so insecure about the matter that it believes we would pass the second stage and that the referendum would pass? If that is the case, we thank China for its confidence.”
“If it was the CTOC that informed the IOC, then I would be sad,” she added. “Does it not know that we used to participate in the Games as ‘Taiwan’?”
When asked whether the CTOC offered to help with the campaign, Chi said: “Not only is the CTOC unsupportive, but it also spread rumors [to dampen the campaign].”
“Nevertheless, there is no reason to feel dejected,” she added. “We have no excuses to be dispirited. I reject being defeated by setbacks. The people in the campaign share the same belief with me: that the second phase of the petition must succeed. That is the only option we have.”
Chi said Chapter 4, Article 30-2 of the Olympic Charter states that “the name of [a national Olympic committee] must reflect the territorial extent and tradition of its country, and shall be subject to the approval of the IOC Executive Board.”
“Even the name ‘Chinese Taipei’ is at odds with the Olympic Charter, since our territorial extent goes beyond Taipei. We have other territories. Why not call it ‘Chinese Taichung,’ ‘Chinese Kaohsiung,’ or ‘Chinese Taitung’?” she said.
The government was in 1981 given another name option for the nation to compete under at the Olympic Games, which was “Chinese Taiwan” (中華台灣), but the government rejected the offer, Chi said.
“My impression is that [the government] was afraid of the appearance of ‘Taiwan,’ because they equated ‘Taiwan’ with Taiwanese independence,” Chi said.
Some have criticized the campaign as a political maneuver to support Taiwanese independence.
“No, it is not,” Chi said. “Think about it: Who was president when we competed in the Olympics under the name ‘Taiwan’ in 1960, 1964 and 1968? Chiang Kai-shek. There was no way the nation could have participated in the Games without his approval. So, was he also pro-independence?”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that the so-called “Olympic model” is an international agreement, so it is uncertain whether the government can change the title of the nation’s Olympic team even if a referendum is passed.
“Whether the referendum result can be implemented is of secondary concern,” Chi said. “Once the referendum is passed, the government would have to instruct [the CTOC] to submit a name change proposal to the IOC.”
“We need to let the voice of Taiwanese be heard by the international community,” she said. “If you do not utter a word and care for your own affairs, how would you expect others to help you?”
“It is essential that we make effort, unite in one voice and make the referendum pass,” Chi said. “Only then can our friends in the international community would have a foundation to stand upon to support us.”
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