Referendum on changing sports team name to ‘Taiwan’ rejected

Taipei, Nov. 24 (CNA) Taiwanese people voted against a closely watched referendum Saturday on whether Taiwan should apply to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under the name “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei.”

The referendum was voted down by a roughly 55-45 percent margin, with 10.51 million valid votes counted as of 2:20 a.m. Sunday.

The petition was spearheaded by renowned Taiwanese Olympian Chi Cheng (紀政), following a movement on the streets of Tokyo two years ago to collect the signatures of people who agreed that Taiwan should be allowed to attend the Tokyo games under the name “Taiwan.”

A track and field athlete, 74-year-old Chi took part in the Olympic Games in 1960, 1964 and 1968 and won a bronze medal in the women’s 80-meter hurdles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Though many voters were sympathetic to the idea of changing the awkward “Chinese Taipei” moniker, the question specifically asked if people agreed with the idea of applying to “participate in all international sporting events and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo using the name ‘Taiwan.'”

Those who voted against the measure may have felt the application process could have had negative consequences rather than giving Taiwan more positive international recognition.

The referendum result, which is legally binding as stated in Article 30 of the Referendum Act, freed the government from a quandary, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made it clear that the name “Chinese Taipei” could not be changed because it was determined in the Lausanne agreement between the IOC and the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee (CTOC) in 1981.

Any attempts to exercise undue pressure on the CTOC to breach the Lausanne agreement or to act against the IOC Executive Board’s decision will be seen as “external interference” that might lead to protection measures under the terms of the Olympic Charter, the IOC warned in a letter to the CTOC released this past week.

The measure cited by the IOC is rule 27.9 of the charter, which allows the suspension or withdrawal of recognition of a national Olympic committee if it prevents the IOC from exercising its will.

The IOC’s opposition drove young Taiwanese Olympians to appeal publicly against the referendum that they believed Taiwan would eventually lose its Olympic membership if the poll passed, preventing them from competing in Olympic-related events.