Sports Event Rules and the Double Standards of the Taiwan Strait

中華男足(歷史照片)。Photo Credit: AP / 達志影像
Why you need to know

FIFA and other sports organizations have strict rules against the display of political, religious, or abusive slogans during international matches. Those rules are also flagrantly biased.

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The Asian Football Confederation recently fined Taiwan’s football association over an incident that occurred during an Asia Cup qualifier in Kaohsiung on June 2. During the match between Taiwan and Cambodia, spectators displayed what has been described as a pro-Taiwan independence flag.

Citing FIFA rules, which ban any political, religious or “abusive slogans” at international football competitions, the Confederation slapped a fine of US$5,000 on the association. The flag featured the island of Taiwan and used the green color. Taken to its extreme, anything green could be construed as a political (or religions, given the color’s association with Islam) statement. (According to FIFA’s Laws of the Game, the rules also extend to athletes’… undergarments: “Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer logo.” Taiwanese players beware: no green underwear allowed!)

Some members of the crowd also reportedly displayed signs reading “Taiwan independence” and “Taiwan is not Chinese Taipei.”

Okay, so rules are rules: no politics at international sports events. However, in the always-particular case of the Taiwan Strait, there is an inherent bias in the regulations. After all, isn’t Taiwan’s inability to use the Republic of China (ROC) flag as its symbol, or the fact that its teams and athletes are forced to compete as members of “Chinese Taipei” or “TPE,” also a political statement, one that favors — no, imposes and inadvertently legitimizes — Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan? “Chinese Taipei” screams politics; it victimizes, and it shuts the door on any alternative, an alternative that, furthermore, is lived and breathed on a daily basis by the 23 million people of Taiwan.

Such preposterous misnomers and geographical disfigurements, which are unpalatable to many more than just the pro-independence advocates in Taiwan, are themselves the result of pressure and “harsh warnings” by Beijing upon the international sporting community.  

FIFA and the other sports organizations that impose similar codes of behavior at international events are being disingenuous if they think that they are being fair to all sides. Theirs isn’t a neutral stance: whether they know it or not, they have taken sides and are comfortably seated in the bully’s camp. Every time the scoreboard flashes “Chinese Taipei” or “TPE” besides a Taiwanese athlete’s name, FIFA and the other groups that enforce the silly rules should also be fined.  

The problem, of course, is that changing the name from “Chinese Taipei” to “Taiwan” would also constitute a political statement, notwithstanding the fact that it much more closely reflects reality (yes, under the strange logic of the Taiwan Strait, the facts can also become “unacceptable” political statements). Sadly this is the kind of Catch-22 that will continue to haunt us as long as Beijing refuses to acknowledge Taiwan’s existence as a sovereign entity. It should be a very simple problem to resolve. 

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