Table Tennis: Why a simple game holds the key to world peace

Ping-pong diplomacy returns as 10 nations meet to defuse tensions with bat and ball

Ping-pong diplomacy will be resurrected in Qatar tomorrow, 40 years after nine tracksuited Americans arrived in Maoist China to thaw Cold War relations over a game of table tennis.

Ten nations, each with a history of bitter rivalry with one of the others, will gather together in Doha in an attempt to help to settle decades of mutual hatred with miniature bats and a very small plastic ball.

The two-day international table tennis tournament will bring some very unlikely countries together as doubles partners, including India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, and Russia and the USA. France and Japan, as well as China and Qatar, will also be paired.

The "Peace and Sport Cup" has been organised in an attempt to improve relations between countries that have experienced bitter rivalries for decades. Diplomats from the competing nations have also been invited in the hope that informal talks will take place alongside the sporting action.

Organisers hope that the sight of rival countries playing in teams together may act as an inspiration to political leaders. When a team of American ping-pong players were invited to play a friendly game in China in 1971, it was the nation's first sporting delegation to the Chinese capital since 1949. It helped to pave the way for President Nixon's official visit to Beijing the following year.

In Qatar, however, hopes for rapprochement suffered an early blow when Iran snubbed the invitation and withdrew from the competition. Tehran has offered no explanation for the withdrawal. Organisers were keen to stress there were logistical difficulties with the Iranian players having other commitments. In the end, North Korea took Iran's place. Britain was not invited to compete.

The tournament was established by the Monaco-based charity Peace and Sport and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), alongside the Qatar Table Tennis Association. They plan to make the tournament a regular event in the sporting calendar.

Joël Bouzou, former World Champion in the modern pentathlon and Olympic bronze medallist, is the founder of Peace and Sport. He said: "We dreamed about resurrecting ping- pong diplomacy. Sport is about more than sport – it has the capacity to bring people together. We hope the tournament will create a new trust."

On Iran's decision not to compete, he said: "We invited Iran and they declined the offer. We hope that they will not miss this opportunity in the future."

Glenn Tepper, development director at the ITTF, said he thought table tennis was ideally suited to peace negotiations. "It's not as physical as something like rugby, so it's better as a tool for peace. We're hoping this will bring closer relations to the nations involved, particularly countries such as North and South Korea and India and Pakistan."

With a prize of US$100,000 (£63,000) at stake, the tournament is expected to be competitive. But Mr Tepper would not be drawn on which pair he expected to win, saying only: "The real point is not who will win or lose, but the symbolic gesture of playing side by side."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most