Little Taiwan at the Beijing Winter Olympics

Amidst China’s drumbeats about its success and the huge shadow of Xinjiang over the Beijing Winter Olympics, one fact got obscured. A country with less than 2 percent of China’s population, crammed into less 0.4 percent of China’s geographical area garnered 32 medals, just below the 37 medals of the top-of-the-table Norway, more than 25 of the US and more than double of the Chinese tally of 15. Little Taiwan once again thumbed its nose at China. It is a sad commentary on international morality that Taiwan, a vibrant democracy is not allowed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to participate in the Olympics under its own name and has to be there under the hodgepodge name of “Chinese Taipei”. Its players cannot carry their national flag and are forced to play under a Plum Blossom flag contrived to satisfy the ego of the big Communist bully in its neighbourhood. When Taiwanese gold medal winners stand on the victory rostrum, Taiwanese national anthem cannot be played. Instead, a substitute anthem fills the air. These restrictions were observed not because the games were held in Beijing; these are thrust on the tiny nation whenever and wherever the Olympics are held.

Let us see the words of the Olympic Creed: ““The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” The Lilliputian nation seems to have imbibed these noble words deep in its collective psyche. It struggles and in spite of all the humiliations inflicted upon it when participating in international events, it does take part and it triumphs. Whether in the degrees of freedom of its citizens, in the GDP per capita or in state-of-the-art technology, it has always been far ahead of China. There is only one aspect in which it lags behind, the brute strength of numbers – of people, of armed forces and instruments of war. The mission statement of the Olympic Spirit says, “The Olympic Spirit seeks to instil and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.” Taiwan has shown tolerance and understanding of its weakness in the arena of brute force and China has repeatedly acted as a bully. Unfortunately, the IOC and even the powerful democracies of the world tilt towards the might of China and have repeatedly snubbed the tiny giant. The IOC repeatedly claims that the games are apolitical and yet, it is for political reasons alone that it does not allow Taiwan to use its name, flag and national anthem.

China’s treatment of its sportspersons and particularly of women among them was displayed recently in two episodes, on in the run-up to the Winter Olympics and during the events. Peng Shuai, a celebrated Chinese tennis star made disturbing allegations of sexual assault and abuse against the Deputy Prime Minister of China. As the world and even the Chinese netizens boiled in anger and indignation, Peng disappeared from public view and the Weibo post was deleted. The IOC came to a spirited defence of China with its president participating in a “pleasant” video chat with Peng when she was still out of public view and clearly under the Chinese authorities’ restraint. Then months later, Peng appeared before the press where questions were not allowed andshe denied that she had made the allegations of sexual assault. She gave a clean chit to the abuser and the IOC declared the matter as closed. The other case relates to Zhou Yi, the California-born figure skater who participated on behalf of the Communist country, giving up her American citizenship. First, she faced online hate for being included in the team in preference to China-born skaters. Then, during the event she crashed into a wall and fell down. She left the rink in tears and was then berated by Chinese netizens calling her a disgrace and worse than an amateur. Clearly, the Olympic creed and spirit are as distant from China as that country is from Olympia.

The two civilizations on the Mediterranean, Rome and Greece are known for different reasons. The former is remembered for its legions that conquered the Gaulsin France and the Celts in England. They avenged Hannibal, the Carthagian who had the temerity to march into Rome, obliterating mighty Carthage. Romans are known for their engineering too, building impressive roads and viaducts for carrying water through mountains and valleys. Mighty Caesar was assassinated by friends and all this brings to mind the army, the manufacturing prowess and the intra-party intrigues of the Chinese Communists. Greece, on the other hand is known for its arts, its philosophers and poets and its Olympic Games. Three millennia ago, in 776 B.C., the Greeks founded the Olympics. Greece had stadia that could accommodate 40,000 persons but the Olympics were not held there. The chosen site was a sacred grove called Althis where, legend has it, Hercules erected an altar to Zeus. The Olympics were about a divine experience for which the participants and spectators travelled long distances to savour the moment of identification with the supernatural described bythe poet Pindar as “A human is just the shadow of a dream – but when a flash of light from Zeus comes down, a shining light falls on humans and their lifetime can be sweet as honey.”

The Beijing Winter Olympics were not about freedom and divine sweetness, these ethereal notions being beyond the capabilities of the godless dictatorial Communist party. The participants were advised by their home countries to keep their mouth shut lest they fall foul of the surveillance state. The 64,000 would be spectators who had bought tickets in advance were told they could not attend as their presence would be detrimental to the regimes so-called zero-Covidpolicy. The games were in a bubble, not the sacred grove open to the breeze from all directions. Often, the judges were partisan as Zeus was not there to judge their judgment. Contrary to the Olympic Creed and Spirit, it was all about winning and the rest were subjected to ridicule. There was no room for tolerance and understanding as Taiwan announced it would not participate in the opening and closing ceremonies as this nation was listed as Taipei, China instead of Chinese Taipei. They were later “persuaded” under pressure from the IOC. Double-faced as always, the Chinese spokeswoman of the organising committee Yan Jiarong said two things at the closing ceremony: “We are always against the idea of politicising the Olympics Games.” Hence any mention of the Xinjiang or Tibet atrocities was against the Olympic spirit. Then in the next breath spoke the second face of Janus: “There is only one China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.”

Even if words were birds, the Communists could not have flown in spite of their verbosity because the two wings would have contradicted each other. Meanwhile, the tiny but democratic Taiwan followed the motto of the Olympics “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – faster, higher, stronger – and flew away with 32 medals. On July 20, 2021, the IOC had added one more Latin word to the traditional motto – Communiter, meaning “together”. The lack of warmth at the Beijing Olympics and the isolation of China stood in contrast to the increasing warmth in relations of many advanced countries with Taiwan showing unambiguously that the Olympic spirit cannot survive in a totalitarian regime and it lives only in the free world.

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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