By Amber Wang with Jerome Taylor in Hong Kong
Taiwan will not send a team to next year’s Gay Games in Hong Kong because of fears their athletes and staff could be arrested if they wave the island’s flag or use its name, the organisation that sends its delegation told AFP.
The revelation means the only place in Asia to have legalised same-sex marriage will not be at the continent’s first ever Gay Games which is being hosted by an international city that China is rapidly remoulding in its own authoritarian image.
It also comes at a time when Taiwan’s record success at the Tokyo Olympics has reignited debate on the self-ruled island about its name at international sporting events.
“We have decided not to send a national delegation as we don’t expect to be able join as Taiwan and to ensure personal safety of the athletes,” Yang Chih-chun, president of the Taiwan Gay Sports and Movement Association (TGSMA), told AFP.
Yang said his organisation, a formal member of the Federation of Gay Games, would assist any Taiwanese player who wanted to attend in a personal capacity.
“But we won’t actively encourage individual participation since there’s no guarantee of a player’s personal safety because under Hong Kong’s national security law, arrests can be made under any excuse,” he said.
China has used a sweeping national security law to snuff out dissent in the financial hub after the city was rocked by huge and often violent protests two years ago.
It has imposed stability on Hong Kong but Yang said he feared athletes could easily “cross the red line” if they spoke their minds.
‘Observe local laws’
Authoritarian Beijing views democratic Taiwan as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if needed.
It baulks at any use of the phrase Taiwan or the island’s official name, the Republic of China, on the international stage.
As a result, Taiwan must compete under the name “Chinese Taipei” and is not allowed to use its flag or national anthem at the Olympics and other sporting events.
Hong Kong will host the 11th Gay Games in November 2022.
Modelled on the Olympics, the games feature both LGBTQ and straight athletes to promote a message of inclusivity and equal rights.
It has been hosted by cities in the US, Australia and Europe.
In a statement, the Gay Games said it would follow the convention of Taiwan being called either “Chinese Taipei” or “Taiwan region”.
Athletes from Taiwan and the TGSMA were welcome to attend, organisers said.
But they added: “We are strictly non-partisan and non-political, and we ask all participants and visitors to respect and observe local laws and customs during their stay in Hong Kong.”
At the 2018 games in Paris, Taiwanese participants said they came under pressure from organisers not to fly the Taiwanese flag.
Ultimately, they waved it at the opening ceremony while holding a banner reading “Taiwan”.
Doing that in Hong Kong could lead to arrest.
Criticism of China by any athlete could also be risky given the national security law forbids any act deemed as subversion or secession — and the law covers all nationalities.
Hong Kong was announced as the next Gay Games host in 2017, two years before the democracy protests and subsequent crackdown.
While it dubs itself “Asia’s World City”, discrimination towards the LGBTQ community remains baked into the city’s laws.
There is no recognition of same-sex marriage or anti-discrimination laws on the grounds of sexuality, despite multiple court rulings stating such bias must end.
Many of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians were vocal advocates for gay rights.
But most prominent democracy activists have been jailed, arrested or have fled overseas.
Taiwan, meanwhile, is at the vanguard of the burgeoning gay rights movement in Asia and became the first place in the region to legalise marriage equality in 2019.