Taiwan Should Bid to Host Olympics, Churchman Says

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Stung by the latest diplomatic snub to his homeland, the head of Taiwan's largest church is calling for the island democracy to stand up to China's harassment by making a bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

"We need to take the initiative and show the world we are an independent country," said the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan general-secretary, the Rev. William J.K. Lo.

China was depriving Taiwan's 23 million people not only of the rights enjoyed by sovereign states, but also of the responsibilities a nation has to the international community, he said Friday.

As a participant in the Olympic Games for many years, Taiwan should have the same right as any other competing nation to apply to host it.

"If we propose holding the Olympics in 2016 under the name 'Taiwan,' then we demonstrate that we have confidence in ourselves," said Lo, whose call came after Taiwan accused the Communist government in Beijing of maneuvering once again to deny the island recognition in the international arena.

Taipei responded furiously this week when the organizers of the 2004 Olympics, which opens in Athens Saturday, removed Taiwanese advertisements from the city's airport and buses -- allegedly acting under pressure from Beijing.

The series of ads featured images of Taiwan and slogans urging on the athletes of "Chinese Taipei," the name under which Taiwan competes at China's insistence.

The Athens Olympic organizing committee (ATHOC) denied it acted under "pressure from any government," arguing that the ads -- which it had earlier approved -- violated regulations which stipulated that "only Olympic-related advertisements are allowed in the Athens area."

Two international human rights groups wrote this week to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), urging it to instruct the ATHOC to reverse the decision and to "reject all attempts by the Beijing government to abuse the Olympic movement for political purposes."

In his appeal for Taiwan to bid to host the 2016 Games, Lo was supporting a campaign by a prominent political commentator, Yang Sien-hong, who recently spoke to President Chen Shui-bian about the idea.

Yang, who is also a member of a committee advising the president on human rights, said from Taipei Friday that Chen had been intrigued by the 2016 proposal.

He had at first wondered whether it was realistic, but Yang said he pointed out that Tokyo hosted the Games in 1964, less than 20 years after a crippled Japan surrendered to U.S. forces at the end of World War II.

"Taiwan in 2004 is in a far better situation than Japan was in 1945," Yang said he told Chen.

He had also argued that with an economy stronger than that of Greece, Taiwan should be able to afford to host the Games.

Yang said a successful bid would have the effect of "unifying all peoples to create a Taiwanese national identity."

With regard to this year's Games, both Lo and Yang also called for an end to the use of the "Chinese Taipei" label, urging Taiwanese to instead refer to the island's competitors in Athens as "Team Taiwan."

"If we acknowledge ourselves to be Chinese Taipei, then we are saying we are stateless," Lo said. "Other people internationally will look down on us because we've already admitted that we're not a nation."

Lo said in a phone interview that Taiwan had "suffered a lot from isolation," citing delays in getting help from the U.N.'s World Health Organization when Taiwan was hit by an outbreak of the deadly SARS virus last year.

Lo called the removal of Taiwan's ads in Athens "unjust," and he said the international community seemed to have been "brainwashed" by China's "one-China propaganda."

China sees Taiwan as a rebellious province and objects to any attempt to express itself as a separate entity.

There were signs Friday that the Athens ad ban could backfire on China.

Aside from the promotional material taken down in Athens, Taiwan's Government Information Office (GIO) is also running ads in English-language media in Europe during the Olympics, including CNN and TIME magazine's Europe edition.

GIO head Lin Chia-lung announced that Taiwan had now decided to change the wording in some of the ads from "Chinese Taipei! Go! Go! Go!" to "Taiwan! Go! Go! Go!"

'Mixing sport and politics'

Any attempt by Taiwan to be considered as a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Games would likely by strongly contested by China, which invariably succeeds in mobilizing support in the international community against Taiwan.

In the sporting arena alone, Chinese pressure has on five occasions denied Taiwan the right to host international events -- the 1998 and 2002 Asian Games, the 2001 and 2007 World University Games and the 2009 East Asian Games.

On the other hand, Taiwan's second city of Kaohsiung has won the right to host the 2009 World Games, a relatively minor competition involving non-Olympic sports.

Under IOC procedures, the five host city candidates for the 2016 Olympics will be chosen in 2008, several months before Beijing hosts the Games that summer. The successful candidate will be chosen in the middle of the following year.

Back in 2001, Beijing won the 2008 hosting rights in the face of considerable opposition from human rights groups around the world.

Citing China's "abominable human rights record," a bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers urged the IOC to deny Beijing's bid. The appeal prompted strong reaction from China, which said mixing politics and sport was not compatible with "Olympic ideals."

After Beijing subsequently won the bid, a new campaign body was established to monitor China's human rights situation in the run-up to the 2008 Games and press for an improvement.

A Prague-based organization, Olympic Watch, wrote Thursday to IOC President Jacques Rogge, complaining about the removal of Taiwan's ads in Athens.

Backed by another organization, the International Society for Human Rights, Olympic Watch decried what it called "a tragic and unacceptable abuse of the IOC for the political intentions of the Beijing government."

Lin, the head of Taiwan's GIO, said in response to emailed inquiries that China's status as a guest in Athens did not stop it from pushing its weight around "to achieve its crass political aims."

"I can only imagine what will happen when Beijing hosts the next summer games in 2008," Lin said. "Clearly, this incident does not bode well for China's ability to fulfill the role of a fair and impartial host."

See Earlier Story:
'Team Taiwan' Focuses on Olympics, Not China's Displeasure (Aug. 11, 2004)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow