At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Chen Shih-hsin won Taiwan’s first ever gold medal. But as the taekwando lightweight stood on the podium after accepting her medal, neither the national anthem she listened to, nor the flag she saw rising were Taiwanese. They were symbols of a compromise Taiwan accepted when the IOC agreed to have Taiwan compete under the name “Chinese Taipei”, recognition that the People’s Republic of China was the only lawful representative of China.
National flags and anthems can be problematic at times because of the emotion they evoke.
We learned of another example recently.
One of the golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy, decided to forego with the Rio Olympics in August, stating that his concerns over the zika virus were enough to keep him home. McIlroy was not alone in that decision, but it was only recently learned that the mosquito-borne virus was not his chief issue. He stated recently in an interview with the Sunday Independent that the IOC told him that if he decided to attend the Rio Games he would have to decide under which flag he would compete: the flag of Great Britain or of Ireland.
McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, but not part of Great Britain. I won’t go into the politics of this area, primarily because I don’t understand it well enough to try. But McIlroy felt the decision to participate in the Olympics was a decision to openly declare allegiance to a particular sovereignty, something he felt uncomfortable with.
“Not everyone is driven by nationalism and patriotism,” he told the Independent. “All of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am. Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most?” he said.
“I started to resent it and I do. I resent the Olympics Games because of the position it put me in, that’s my feelings towards it, and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.”
Apparently, McIlroy explained his feelings in a series of texts to his friend and gold medalist of the Rio Olympic golf competition, Justin Rose.
Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way. I don’t know the words to either of them; I don’t feel a connection to either flag; I don’t want it to be about flags; I’ve tried to stay away from that.