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Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 in 2021

March 30, 2020

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year’s games. Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the games were due to start this year.

“The schedule for the games is key to preparing for the games,” Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said. “This will only accelerate our progress.” Last week, the IOC and Japanese organizers postponed the Olympics until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s games were scheduled to open on July 24 and close on Aug. 9. But the near exact one-year delay will see the rescheduled closing ceremony on Aug. 8. There had been talk of switching the Olympics to spring, a move that would coincide with the blooming of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. But it would also clash with European soccer and North American sports leagues.

Mori said a spring Olympics was considered but holding the games later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak. “We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify,” Mori said.

After holding out for weeks, local organizers and the IOC last week postponed the Tokyo Games under pressure from athletes, national Olympic bodies and sports federations. It’s the first postponement in Olympic history, though there were several cancellations during wartime.

The Paralympics were rescheduled to Aug. 24-Sept. 5. The new Olympic dates would conflict with the scheduled world championships in track and swimming, but those events are now expected to also be pushed back.

“The IOC has had close discussions with the relevant international federations,” organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said. “I believe the IFs have accepted the games being held in the summer.” Muto said the decision was made Monday and the IOC said it was supported by all the international sports federations and was based on three main considerations: to protect the health of athletes, to safeguard the interests of the athletes and Olympic sport, and the international sports calendar.

“These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organisation of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the IOC said. “The new dates … also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFs.”

Both Mori and Muto have said the cost of rescheduling the Olympics will be “massive” — local reports estimate billions of dollars — with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers. Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.

“Since it (the Olympics) were scheduled for this summer, all the venues had given up hosting any other events during this time, so how do we approach that?” Muto asked. “In addition, there will need to be guarantees when we book the new dates, and there is a possibility this will incur rent payments. So there will be costs incurred and we will need to consider them one by one. I think that will be the tougher process.”

Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an emeritus professor of sports economics at Kansai University, puts the costs as high as $4 billion. That would cover the price of maintaining stadiums, refitting them, paying rentals, penalties and other expenses.

Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are twice that much. All of the spending is public money except $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget.

The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC’s contribution goes into the operating budget. IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called the Tokyo Olympics the best prepared in history. However, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso also termed them “cursed.” Aso competed in shooting in the 1976 Olympics, and was born in 1940.

The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were canceled because of World War II. The run-up to the Olympics also saw IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda, who also headed the Japanese Olympic Committee, forced to resign last year amid a bribery scandal.

A virus rages, a flame goes out: Tokyo Games reset for 2021

March 25, 2020

(AP) Not even the Summer Olympics could withstand the force of the coronavirus. After weeks of hedging, the IOC took the unprecedented step of postponing the world’s biggest sporting event, a global extravaganza that’s been cemented into the calendar for more than a century.

The Tokyo Games, slated for 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries and at a reported cost of $28 billion, had been scheduled to start July 24. They will now be pushed into 2021 on dates to be determined.

They will still be called the 2020 Olympics — a symbolic gesture that the International Olympic Committee hopes will allow the games to “stand as a beacon of hope,” as it stated in delivering the news Tuesday.

“I don’t think anybody was really prepared for this virus happening,” said American sprinter Noah Lyles, who had been primed to be one of the world’s breakout stars in Tokyo. “You look over the history of the Olympics and see that it’s usually war that’s stopped the Olympics from happening.”

Only World War I and World War II have forced the Olympics to be canceled; they were scrubbed in 1916, 1940 and 1944. Now, a microscopic virus that is wreaking havoc with daily life around the planet, to say nothing of its sports schedule, has accomplished what no other virus (Zika in 2016), act of terrorism (the killing of Israelis in Munich in 1972), boycott (1980 and 1984), threat of war (frequent) or actual world war itself has managed to do: postpone the games and push them into an odd-numbered year.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The global pandemic has sickened at least 420,000 people and killed more than 18,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Four-time Olympic hockey champion Hayley Wickenheiser, the first IOC member to criticize the body’s long-held, dug-in refusal to change the dates, called the postponement the “message athletes deserved to hear.”

“To all the athletes: take a breath, regroup, take care of yourself and your families. Your time will come,” she wrote on Twitter. When will that time be? Nobody knows yet. It was a big part of the reason the IOC refused to announce a postponement that was becoming more inevitable with each passing day. Major sports organizations, including World Athletics and the gymnastics, track and swimming federations in the United States, were calling for a delay. So were major countries, including Canada, Brazil and Australia.

Even more compellingly, athletes were raising their voices. They were speaking to the unfairness of not being able to train, fearful that a trip out of the house could put them, or someone in their hometown, in jeopardy. And what of their competitors, some living halfway around the world, who might not have as many restrictions, and could be getting a leg up? There were fears about the eroding anti-doping protocols caused by virus-related restrictions and qualifying procedures that were disintegrating before their eyes.

“A bittersweet victory for athletes,” one group, Global Athlete, called the decision. “On one hand, their Olympic dreams have been put on hold. On the other hand, athletes have shown their power when they work together as a collective.”

With IOC President Thomas Bach guiding the process, the committee had said as recently as Sunday that it might take up to four weeks for an announcement to come. It took two days. But make no mistake, there are still weeks of difficult planning ahead.

Many of Tokyo’s arenas, stadiums and hotels are under contract for a games held from July 24 to Aug. 9. Remaking those arrangements is doable, but will come at a cost. There are also considerations beyond the top-line price tag. Among them: The $1 billion-plus the IOC was to receive from broadcast partner NBC; the millions in smaller athlete endorsement contracts that are now in limbo; the budgets of the individual national Olympic committees; the availability of the 80,000 volunteers who signed up to help.

“People are having a problem calling off weddings, and calling off little tournaments, so imagine with all the billions of dollars that’s gone into this,” five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings told The Associated Press. “They have a grieving process to go through. They have so many moving parts to think about.”

There’s also the matter of the international sports schedule. Nearly all 33 sports on the Olympic program have key events, including world championships, on the docket for 2021. Hayward Field at the University of Oregon was rebuilt and expanded at the cost of around $200 million to hold next year’s track and field world championships. Now that event will likely be rescheduled.

“Of course there’s going to be challenges,” said Paul Doyle, an agent who represents about 50 Olympic athletes. “At the same time, this is what had to happen.” It came together during a meeting Tuesday among Bach, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a handful of other executives from the IOC and Japan’s organizing committee.

Among the first casualties of the IOC’s impeccably curated timeline was the torch relay. Organizers were planning to start the journey through the host country in the northeast prefecture of Fukushima on Thursday, albeit with no fans and no torchbearer. Instead, the flame will be stored and displayed, with its next move to be determined later.

Just one of hundreds of difficult changes the IOC leaders have to make in the upcoming weeks and months. But the most difficult decision is behind them. The unspoken irony in it all is that when Japan was awarded the games in 2013, it came on the strength of a campaign in which it positioned itself as “the safe pair of hands.” It was a time when the world was still emerging from the Great Recession, and the Olympic movement was especially sensitive to the runaway expenses the Summer Games were incurring.

Japan, like every host before it, had trouble sticking to the budget. Nevertheless, seven years later, and through no fault of its own — in fact, Japan is one of the countries that appears to be avoiding the worst of the coronavirus — Tokyo residents are watching their grand plans for 2020 implode.

So, onto 2021. As far as the Olympic world — and perhaps the world at large — is concerned, it can’t get here soon enough.

Also contributing: Stephen Wade and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Pat Graham in Denver, Paul Newberry in Atlanta, Graham Dunbar in Geneva, Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Jimmy Golen in Boston.

Downtown Tokyo’s homeless fear removal ahead of Olympics

January 23, 2020

TOKYO (AP) — Shelters made of cardboard start popping up in the basement of Tokyo’s Shinjuku train station right before the shutters come down at 11 p.m., in corridors where “salarymen” rushing home and couples on late-night dates have just passed by.

Dozens of homeless people sleeping rough in such spots worry that with Japan’s image at stake authorities will force them to move ahead of the Olympics. Already, security officials have warned them they will likely have to find less visible locations by the end of March.

The former laborers, clerical workers and others sleeping in cardboard boxes are a not-quite-invisible glimpse of a more pervasive but largely hidden underclass of poor in Japan, a wealthy nation seen as orderly and middle class.

Efforts to clean up what some see as urban blight have preceded every recent Olympics, including those in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro. Tokyo city officials deny they are moving to force the homeless out specially for the Olympics. They say trying to get them into shelters is part of an overall welfare effort to get them off the streets and find them jobs and housing.

“There is nothing more than the programs we already have in place to help the homeless,” said Emi Yaginuma, a Tokyo city official in charge of such programs. “We keep trying by making the rounds and talking to them, but all we can do is to try to persuade them.”

In theory, overnight sleeping at train stations is trespassing. In practice, the homeless have long slept in Shinjuku station and other spots. JR East, a major train company servicing Tokyo, doesn’t have regulations on the homeless and employees handle situations as they come up, such as passenger complaints.

Just as the homeless arrive for the night, a public speaker overhead is warning that sleeping in the station isn’t allowed. As preparations for the Olympics began years ago, homeless people camping in a park in Tokyo’s Shibuya were forced out to make way for development and a soup kitchen program there was moved to another, less visible park nearby. Advocates for the homeless fear that was just the start.

Homeless people were evicted in 2016 from a park near where the New National Stadium was built, the main arena for the Olympics. Like the U.S., Japan has a relatively high poverty rate for a wealthy nation. It also is less generous with social welfare than countries in Europe, and lacks the sorts of private charities prevalent in the U.S.

Nearly 16% of Japanese fall below the poverty rate, with annual income below the cutoff of 1.2 million yen ($11,000), according to 2017 Japanese government data. The poverty rate for single-adult households with children is way higher, at 51%.

The unraveling of extended family support networks and job insecurity have left many in Japan vulnerable to setbacks that can lead to homelessness. Japan’s culture of conformity leaves many, including families, ashamed to seek help.

Most of the homeless sleeping underground in Shinjuku, a glitzy shopping area fringed by red-light districts, high-rise offices and parks, are older men. Shigeyoshi Tozawa has a lacquer begging bowl with a few coins, three tiny, solar-powered toy figures with bobbing heads bought at a 100-yen ($1) store, and various bags filled with blankets, clothes and other items, including his poems.

“Last night/ dream of a future trip/ it is dark,” goes one poem. Passersby sometimes give him money for the poems, he says. “This is my community. We all help each other,” Tozawa said. “There are no dirty homeless here. We are all ‘trendy.’”

In what’s clearly a routine, he and the others quietly prepare for the night, picking their favorite spots, neatly folding blankets. Some change into sleepwear and wipe their feet clean with wet towels, daintily placing their shoes beside their lopsided cardboard shelters.

Tozawa and the others are relatively well-dressed, in handout down jackets, baseball caps and camouflage sweatpants. Some have cell phones and other gadgets. Many have some money in the bank. They get by making the rounds of downtown soup kitchens run by church and volunteer charities, and other spots where they can get free rice balls or sandwiches.

Many of those sleeping rough are “working poor,” said Daisaku Seto, who works for a nonprofit for refugees and a consumers’ food cooperative called Palsystem. He says some suffer psychological trauma and need training to get better-paying jobs. Once they drop into poverty, they rarely find their way back out.

“We need to come up with ways to help that empower them,” said Seto, who is a leader in a one of the leaders of a grassroots group called the Anti-Poverty Network. Yukio Takazawa, executive director of a support group for the poor in Yokohama’s Kotobukicho, an area of flophouses where homeless people also tend to congregate, worries the worst is to come.

The construction boom from the Olympics will be winding down, reducing chances for odd jobs for day laborers. The younger poor, who now spend nights in Internet cafes, likely will eventually end up on the streets, said Takazawa, who has been working with the poor for 30 years.

Finding affordable housing in Tokyo is tough. Rents are high and landlords tend to be finicky. Just getting a rental contract can require six months of rent or more up front. Those unable or unwilling to get apartments camp along river banks, in parks and train stations. Welfare offices try to get people to move into shelters but many, like former construction worker Masanori Ito, resist. “They have rules,” he said, munching on sandwiches he got from a volunteer.

If he has to move, Ito said he plans to find some other warm outdoor spot. “I don’t know where we will all move next,” he said.

New faces to watch in the pool on the road to Tokyo Olympics

July 28, 2019

GWANGJU, South Korea (AP) — An American named Michael. Teenage girls from three different countries. A Hungarian who took down Michael Phelps’ favorite world record. New faces emerged in the pool at the world championships a year out from the Tokyo Olympics. They all have potential to make the podium in what would be the first games for each of them.

Here’s a look at the talent pool:

MICHAEL ANDREW, United States

He has been generating attention since turning pro at 14 and skipping college swimming. Andrew is coached by his father using a method that emphasizes swimming at low volume all at race pace. The 20-year-old from Kansas reached his first worlds final in Gwangju and barely missed a medal in the 50 butterfly, finishing fourth with a personal-best time. Andrew has a win over Caeleb Dressel (50 fly, 2018 U.S. national championships) and remains poised to become a breakout star.

MAGGIE MACNEIL, Canada

She stunned four-time world and Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden to win the 100 butterfly in the biggest international meet of her career. The 19-year-old who swims at Michigan helped Canada to bronzes in the 4×100 free relay and 4×100 medley relay. She was a key part of the Canadian women’s team earning eight medals.

KRISTOF MILAK, Hungary

He turned heads by breaking Michael Phelps’ 10-year-old world record in the 200 butterfly with a time of 1:50.37. That bettered Phelps’ mark by 0.78 seconds in the American’s favorite event and was more than three seconds faster than the other medalists. Milak was already the European champion and junior world record holder in the event, but the 19-year-old’s fame shot through the roof after erasing Phelps’ mark. No longer is Katinka Hosszu the most famous Hungarian swimmer. How Milak copes with the increased attention and his ability to follow up with a medal in Tokyo will prove whether he has staying power or is a one-hit wonder.

REGAN SMITH, United States

The 17-year-old from Minnesota introduced herself to the world in the 200 backstroke, lowering the world record in the semifinals before nearly doing it again in the final. Smith won gold in 2:03.35, beating her nearest rival by a whopping 2.57 seconds. Her 100 back split of 57.57 seconds in the 4×100 medley relay set a world record, too. She qualified for only one individual event in Gwangju but figures to add several more in the Olympics, including the 100 back.

ARIARNE TITMUS, Australia

Nicknamed “The Terminator,” the 18-year-old from Tasmania upset Katie Ledecky to win the 400 freestyle, finishing a full second ahead of the American star. Turns out Ledecky was ailing throughout the world meet, but Titmus’ presence makes things interesting for Ledecky, who has trounced the competition since the 2012 Olympics. Titmus earned silver in the 200 free, bronze in the 800 free and gold in the 4×200 free relay at worlds.

Swedish bid hopes Latvia link key to 2026 Olympics host vote

June 23, 2019

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The head of Sweden’s 2026 Winter Olympics bid believes having Latvia on the hosting ticket can sway Monday’s vote for the perceived underdog against Milan-Cortina. The Stockholm-Are plan to stage ice sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia avoids building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

Using the sliding track at Sigulda “adds enormous value” to the two-nation bid, Stockholm-Are chief executive Richard Brisius told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It will be very important for delivering the new transformative games that we want to do,” Brisius said.

The International Olympic Committee wants the 2026 Winter Games to help end skepticism about the cost of bidding and hosting the games, after potential bids in Canada, Switzerland and Austria dropped out due to local opposition.

Brisius argued the Latvian element in Sweden’s bid is the best example of living up to the IOC’s promise to be flexible with candidates aiming to be cost-efficient. “Are the IOC members ready for that? We are offering that,” the Stockholm-Are official said in a challenge to around 85 IOC voters.

“If we can do this, and we show that this is the way to do it, it will open up for more bid cities in the future,” Brisius said. “I would not say we are the underdog — I think we are the future.” One member of Sweden’s delegation who is more than happy with the underdog label is retired high jumper Stefan Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013.

The 43-year-old Holm, who won Olympic gold in 2004, even drew comparisons with Sweden’s victory over Italy in the qualifying playoff for the 2018 World Cup. “Sweden is always the best when we’re the underdog,” Holm said after a bilateral meeting at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. “In the team sports we could beat Italy in football and we’re always the underdog against Italy, the same against Canada in ice hockey or whatever.

“So I think we’re in a good place.” Sweden has never hosted the Winter Games. It made numerous bids between 1984 and 2004, while it was also briefly in the race for 2022. “We are a stable country politically speaking, economically speaking,” said Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013. “We have never held the games before and we really, really want it. We are a sports loving people especially when it comes to winter sport so hopefully it’s our turn this time.”

IOC members are famously discreet about their voting intentions ahead of a hosting vote, and more than one-third of this electorate is voting for the first time. A total of 35 members have joined since the last contested vote in July 2015 when Beijing edged Almaty to get the 2022 Winter Games.

“I meet people who are very keen to find out what is best for the (Olympic) movement,” Brisius said of the newer recruits. Two of those 35 are Italian — bobsled federation president Ivo Ferriani and Italian Olympic committee head Giovanni Malago — and so cannot vote Monday.

Malago is confident that the support for the Italian bid, from the government and the general population, will see it edge out Sweden. That support is a contrast to recent Italian bids — three years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city’s mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city’s candidacy for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.

“We have never received a critic. From any parties,” Malago said of the current bid. “The government and the opposition support this bid. I think it is a unique case not only in Italy but also in the world.”

The IOC president traditionally does not vote, though in an expected close race the winner is likely to be the candidate most favored by Thomas Bach’s office.

IOC’s Bach and Abe make brief visit to Fukushima region

November 24, 2018

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a quick trip Saturday to the region northeast of Tokyo that was devastated by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed three nuclear reactors.

The Fukushima region will hold baseball and softball games during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The visit was intended to showcase a region that government officials say is safe, except for a no-go zone around the nuclear plant. Environmental groups have disputed some government claims and have raised safety concerns.

Neither Abe nor Bach took questions after visiting a baseball stadium and meeting with local residents and athletes. Government officials want the Olympics to convince a world audience that the region is safe.

Bach is in Japan for a week of meetings with Tokyo Olympic organizers and national Olympic officials for about 200 countries.

Olympic referendum: Shall it be ‘Taiwan’ or ‘Chinese Taipei’

November 22, 2018

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. 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,” said 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.”

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 after spending $40 billion on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the IOC said it will not alter a 1981 agreement that Taiwan must compete as Chinese Taipei. Its executive board repeated that stance in meetings on May 2-3. “The agreement remains unchanged and fully applicable,” the IOC said.

That puts the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee in a bind. If the referendum passes, it could be required by Taiwanese law to go ahead with the name change pending approval from the legislature. But in a statement to AP, it said “we are bound by the Olympic Charter, the agreement we signed with the IOC in 1981, and also by the IOC executive board decision.”

Taiwan’s athletes are caught in the middle. Dozens protested Wednesday, fearing they could lose their chance to participate in the Olympics. Even if Taiwan was booted out, the IOC has frequently let athletes compete under an independent Olympic flag.

Jacqueline Yi-ting Shen, the secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, declined to comment for this article. But she spoke about Taiwan’s predicament in an interview with the AP at the Asian Games in August.

“This gives us a chance to compete and make our strength known internationally, so we accept the pity that we have to compete under the name of Chinese Taipei,” Shen said. She added: “I’m sure that many people (in Taiwan) feel dismayed. But quite a lot understand that it is the reality in the international sporting realm. If we use our own name, we will lose the chance for our athletes. They will lose the playground, or the showcase they have. The right of our athletes to compete is our utmost concern. And I think most Taiwanese understand that.”

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference this month that Taiwan was using the name issue to “politicize” sports. He said the referendum would damage Taiwan’s interests but gave no details of measures Beijing might take.

Earlier, China warned that Taiwan would “swallow its own bitter fruit” over the referendum issue. Taiwan’s ruling party, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party led by President Tsai Ing-wen, has remained largely silent on the name change.

“There are international constraints on her (Tsai),” Dachi Liao, who teaches political science at National Sun Yat-sen University, told the AP. “She cannot speak out loudly on this; maybe doing something subtly, but never speaking out.”

Liao said the referendum is a proxy vote on independence, and China fears it could echo in the ethnic-minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. “People who support changing the name, many of these supporters are pro-independence,” Liao said. “The pro-independence people are feeling upset, so they try to find an opportunity to promote this kind of issue even though they know it may not pass.”

China has thwarted Taiwan’s every move to assert its independence, even in the sporting sphere. Earlier this year, Taiwan lost the right to hold the East Asian Youth Games, under reported pressure from China.

Taiwan held the Summer University Games last year with about 7,500 athletes. China skipped the opening ceremony, but competed in the events. Athletes from Argentina unfurled Taiwan’s real flag at the closing ceremony, waving an independence symbol that Taiwan athletes are forbidden from displaying.

The Argentines were reprimanded for breaking Olympic rules, but warmly applauded inside the stadium. China has warned international airlines and hotels not to use the word “Taiwan” on maps or other material.

The referendum needs one-quarter of Taiwan’s 19 million voters to be approved. Liao, the political scientist, doubts it will reach that threshold. If it does, the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee is likely to ask its membership what to do.

It risks IOC censure if it moves ahead. The IOC is reported to have warned it at least three times not to proceed. If it backs down, it’s thwarting the democratic will of Taiwan voters. “It’s insulting to us because everyone knows we are Taiwan,” George Chang, the former mayor of Tainan and a referendum organizer, told AP. “Chinese Taipei is not an area or a country. What is Chinese Taipei? Nobody knows. So let Taiwan be Taiwan.”

Taiwan participated in the 1972 games as the Republic of China. It boycotted the next several after its United Nations seat was handed to China, returning in 1984 after submitting to the name change and China’s rising clout.

Despite the roadblocks, the island of 24 million remains a regional power and placed seventh in the recent Asian Games, fielding a delegation of 550 and boasting stars like badminton’s No. 1-ranked woman Tai Tzu-ying.

Alexander C. Huang, who teaches political science at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said the island only faces more isolation if it challenges China. “Taiwan does not have much leverage or support our noble cause, to get our name right or to get our flag flying,” he said. “Maybe in the future … the atmosphere would lead us to that eventual goal. But not now.”

Associated Press video journalist Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, and writer Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

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