Football: Taiwan thanks World Cup organisers after China reference is removed from app

Taiwan was listed in the dropdown menu of nationalities in the app as "Taiwan, Province of China". PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA (BLOOMBERG, AFP, REUTERS) - Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday (June 16) expressed thanks after organisers of the World Cup in Qatar removed a reference to China for Taiwanese visitors applying for an identification card that doubles as an entry visa.

Organisers of November's football World Cup in Qatar have appeared to give in to outrage from Taiwanese officials and altered a ticketing system that had identified Taiwanese attendees as hailing from China.

Taipei's ire was sparked by Qatar's launch this week of its Hayya card app, which aims to facilitate football fans' access to the country and games.

In the initial version of the app, there was no option for fans from Taiwan, which has no diplomatic relations with Qatar, to register for their Hayya card.

As of Wednesday, Taiwan was listed in the dropdown menu of nationalities as "Taiwan, Province of China". By later in the day, it was listed only as "Taiwan".

However, a separate section of the app where users are requested to enter where they currently live continued to include "Taiwan, Province of China".

After the change was made, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters this was a “positive development”, and expressed appreciation for the fast reaction by the organisers.

“We express our thanks and affirmation for this goodwill,”Ou added.

Organisers have insisted that all nationalities will be welcomed to the tournament.

Qatar's World Cup organising committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg.

Taiwan, which has never fielded a team at the World Cup, said that identifying its citizens as Chinese "belittles our country".

It had asked the organisers to fix the issue immediately to "respect the rights and dignity of Taiwanese fans who plan to go and watch the games," Ou said via text message earlier.

"This unfriendly move by the organisers against Taiwan not only shifts the focus away from the game, but will also face international judgement and blame, which negatively affects the development of international competitions," she said.

The app has landed the World Cup organisers in the middle of one of the world's most sensitive geopolitical disputes. While Beijing claims the island as part of its territory, democratically-ruled Taiwan rejects being a part of the People's Republic of China. Taiwan's government asserts it is a de facto independent country awaiting wider international recognition.

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China, which did not qualify for Qatar 2022, and Taiwan are separate members of football's world governing body Fifa, with Taiwan competing in international competition under the name Chinese Taipei.

The sporting world's use of the name Chinese Taipei is based on a 1981 compromise made with the International Olympic Committee to allow Taiwan to compete on the international stage.

The current dispute comes amid increasing efforts by Beijing to deny Taiwan status in the international arena. The Chinese government regularly condemns any contact between Taiwan and other countries or moves that imply sovereignty for the island.

It has also pressured international companies, including airlines, hotels and clothing companies, to refer to Taiwan as a province of China on their websites and packaging.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he was not aware of the situation. "I would like to reiterate that Taiwan is part of China," he told a regular news briefing on Wednesday in Beijing.

Qatar is expecting more than one million fans to visit during the World Cup, which runs from Nov 21 to Dec 18, and all must register for the ID card.

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