Sunday, December 8, 2013

Taiwanese athletes hope to compete as Taiwan internationally

By: Jacob Betzner
Produced & edited by: Katie Foglia 
The buzzer sounded. The best basketball players from Taiwan defeated China, 82 to 79, to win the gold medal in the East Asian Games this October in Tianjin, China. The Taiwanese athletes watched the flag of Chinese Taipei rise to the rafters of the stadium instead of the flag of the Republic of China. In the background, the National Flag Anthem played over loudspeakers instead of the National Anthem of the Republic of China.
The same flag ascended to the tops of stadiums in Athens, Greece in 2004 when Mu-yen Chu and Shih-hsin Chen won Olympic gold medals in the flyweight division of taekwondo, the first and only Olympic gold medals in the history of Taiwan.

Issue of Taiwan as a fully independent nation

The issue of a fully independent Taiwan arose after Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party defeated Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT in 1949. The KMT fled to the island of Taiwan and set up a new government.
Athletes used some form of Taiwan or the Republic of China at international sporting competitions until the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montréal. Canada, not recognizing Taiwan as a legitimate country, refused to allow athletes to wear Taiwan. In response, Taiwan boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. In 1981, the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee signed an agreement, which established the protocol of Taiwan using the flag and anthem of Chinese Taipei at international events.
“Taiwan is obligated to follow this agreement in order to protect its equal status and rights for participation in international sporting events,” wrote the Sports Administration of the Ministry of Education in an official statement.
Pei-wen Chen, a former triathlete with the national team and Soochow University in Taipei, now studies political science and mostly focuses on relations between China and Taiwan. Chen competed in races throughout the world with the Chinese Taipei team.
“We couldn’t call us Taiwan, so we call us Chinese Taipei, and when we race, also, our flag cannot show on our clothes,” Chen said. “Actually, I have been to China for a race, and when they check our tracksuits, we couldn’t show our flag.”
The athletes from Chinese Taipei entering the stadium at the opening ceremonies
of the 2010 Winter Olympics, with Ma Chih-hung carrying the national flag.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons. 
Jin-shu Hsu, a former gymnast who competed for the National Taiwan Normal University, said China interferes when Chinese Taipei athletes try to wave the national flag of the Republic of China at international sporting events. Hsu said Taiwan operates independently from Mainland China, but understands and accepts the international status of Taiwan and chose to focus on winning instead of the name.
“Sure, we are independent,” Hsu said. “It’s not a big issue for me, but other people are angry about this.”

Restrictions from mainland China 

Mainland China forbids athletes from Taiwan from stitching Taiwan on team uniforms, flying the national flag of Taiwan and playing the national anthem of Taiwan at international competitions. Mainland China claims Taiwan as a territory but allows the island to compete in international events as Chinese Taipei. Chen views the international status of Taiwan differently.
“I really believe that Taiwan is a country. We have an army, residents, a government and our land,” Chen said.
Taiwan operates independently from Mainland China but complies with the rule for fear of military action and to retain trade relations. Pei-shan Tang, Deputy General Secretary of the Chinese Taipei Waterski and Wakeboard Association and a former team member said the name Chinese Taipei further blurs the lines between Taiwan and Mainland China.
“It’s always confusing that people don’t understand why we use Chinese Taipei instead of Taiwan,” she said. “Taiwan isn’t well-known enough, and it’s even harder to get [the world] to know more about Chinese Taipei.”
Chen said the inability to represent Taiwan angers most athletes, but few understand the reasoning behind Chinese Taipei. However, Tang studied at the Chinese Taipei Olympic Academy and learned the history behind Chinese Taipei instead of Taiwan, but cares more about competing and winning than the uniforms.

“I will still be proud of wearing whatever representing my country,” Tang said.

Tian-ying Fan, president of the Chinese Taipei Touch Association said fans represent Taiwan at international competitions by waving the Flag of the Republic of China in spite of the International Olympic Committee ruling.
“Supporters will bring Taiwan National Flag and sing the national anthem instead of the Chinese Taipei flag,” Fan said. “It is an issue, which goes back a few decades, but people will support their team and athletes regardless.”

The future of the Chinese Taipei

Willy Chuang, currently studying for the Taiwan Civil Service Exam, played low-level college baseball. He said when the national teams hit television screens, fans gather to sing songs, cheer and set off fireworks, despite the flag of Chinese Taipei flying.
“No matter what political idea people have, we always feel frustrated that our national team cannot fly our national flag,” he said.
Yan-wen Chen, a software engineer in Taipei and a huge fan of the Chinese Taipei soccer and baseball teams said he remembers Taipei erupting with every run when Chinese Taipei took on Japan in the World Baseball Classic in May 2013. Chen said fans sometimes talk about the name but focus only focus on the score during games.
“Everybody just stands on the street and if we score, everybody cheers. It’s very amazing,” he said. “I think most of the people don’t very care about names, they just cheer for the win.”

The Chinese Taipei Olympic flag suspended alongside
other national flags during the 2012 Summer Olympic
display in the West end of london. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Many athletes hope to represent Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei in the future. Tang hopes one day the International Olympic Committee reconsiders and allows Taiwanese athletes to use the name, flag and anthem of Taiwan. Chen tried to show the Taiwan flag at races internationally and claimed to represent Taiwan, but said the Taiwanese government failed to take a strong stance on the name issue for fear of backlash from Mainland China. However, Chen said a movement to a fully independent Taiwan starts with the elimination of Chinese Taipei.

“I always bring my flag, and when I race, I always call myself Taiwan,” Chen said. “We are not Chinese Taipei, we are Taiwan.”

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