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."

Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor