Because of pressure from China, athletes from Taiwan compete at the Olympics under the name of a make-believe country: Chinese Taipei. They march behind an imaginary national flag and, if they win a gold medal, hear an "alternate national anthem" being played. Imagine if France or Australia had to use an assumed name at the Olympics, or the United States and Japan were banned from flying their flags. A referendum to challenge this will be held in Taiwan on Saturday, the AP reports. It asks if the self-governing island should compete in international sports events—including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—as "Taiwan" instead of "Chinese Taipei."
"We are the sole IOC member banned from using our own country's name," says Chi Cheng, a bronze medalist in the 1968 Olympics. "We are the only member who cannot sing our national anthem and fly our national flag. We are the only one. This shows how seriously China is suppressing us." But no matter what voters want, nothing is likely to change. China's authoritarian government has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province since the two separated in the 1949 civil war. The International Olympic Committee backs China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. In a statement, the IOC said it will not alter a 1981 agreement that Taiwan must compete as Chinese Taipei. (Some major airlines have given in to Beijing's demand to refer to Taiwan as part of China.)