Taiwan name-change backers hit out at International Olympic Committee warning
- Island within its rights to ask for change and its athletes won’t be barred from overseas competition, former sport administrator says
A group of pro-independence advocates have claimed that Taiwan’s athletes would not be barred from international competition if a proposed name change for the island’s sporting teams went ahead, challenging a warning from the International Olympic Committee on the issue.
Voters will decide in a referendum this weekend on whether the island should compete as “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei” in all international sporting events, including the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Taiwan has competed as Chinese Taipei since 1981, when Beijing – which sees the self-ruled island as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland – succeeded in making the IOC alter the island’s official “Republic of China” team name.
Since May 4, the IOC has warned the island three times that it risked losing its IOC membership and its athletes would not be allowed to attend international games if it pushed for the name change.
In its latest letter to the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee and the government on Friday, the IOC stressed that any name change was “under its jurisdiction”.
“The IOC does not interfere with local procedures and fully respects freedom of expression. However, to avoid any unnecessary expectations or speculations, the IOC wishes to reiterate that this matter is under its jurisdiction, in accordance with the Olympic Charter,” the letter said.
Fearing that they might lose their right to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, a number of top Taiwanese athletes, including weightlifting gold medallist Hsu Shu-ching, urged the administration to call off the vote. If the referendum went ahead, voters should cast a no ballot, they said.
“Please return the stage to the athletes and support the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, so that they can take part in the games properly,” Hsu said.
But Hsu I-hsiung, a name-change advocate and former head of the island’s Sports Administration, said on Tuesday that Taiwan was within its rights to ask for the change.
“There will be no removal of our rights or deprival of our qualification for international games, including the Olympics, as the so-called warning has said,” Hsu I-hsiung said.
He said that according to the IOC charter, the IOC had no right to disagree with any member seeking to change its title before an actual application was submitted and before a general committee meeting was held to decide whether to approve the application.
“Also, according to the charter, members have the right to ask for the change of their title in competing in international games and in fact many members had done so in the past several decades,” he said.
The Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee has expressed concern that the island could lose its IOC membership if it tries to push for the name change, urging the public to consider the rights of athletes who have spent a great deal of time and effort to prepare for the international events.
But Chi Cheng, a former track and field athlete and Olympic medallist, said the island competed as Taiwan in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympics, suggesting that members could use the title they deemed best.
“It is the tradition and principle for the Olympics to protect the rights of all athletes instead of nullifying their qualification because of a name change,” she said.
Chen Yong-shing, founder of the Taiwan People News website and a key member of the name-change campaign, said the government must follow through if the proposal passed.
“It must also take action against the chairman of the Chinese Taipei committee Lin Hong-dao, for failing to uphold the committee’s rights and for spreading fear before making the committee negotiate with the IOC for the name change,” he said.