Ping-pong diplomacy may help save the world

Kelner's View

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The Independent Online

We have all heard of shuttle diplomacy, but yesterday's newspapers brought an entirely new concept: ping-pong diplomacy.

This is not what happens when envoys get around the table and bat ideas back and forth to each other, using varying types of spin.

No, this is an idea pioneered by a charity organisation called Peace and Sport, whose belief is that reconciliation between countries who have hitherto been enemies can be achieved on the sporting field – or in this case, on the table. Today in Qatar, a table-tennis tournament will bring some very unlikely doubles partners together: for instance, North and South Korea, and Russia and the United States.

Unfortunately, Iran has pulled out of the competition – anyone joining forces with it in a game of doubles would have been an interesting sight. Table tennis is, in many ways, the perfect sport to bring about peace and harmony: a non-contact game which, in my experience, is played with good manners and a genuine appreciation for a partner's, or opponent's, skill.

There is also something of a revival in table tennis these days. Numbers taking up the sport are growing every week, and, if my own experience is anything to go by, it is a godsend for middle-aged men who have spent their lives seeking every sensation possible, and now have nothing to look forward to apart from the slow march to a pension. For us, table tennis has made us feel young again.

It all started when a friend of mine, a man in the film business, asked whether I played table tennis. The answer I gave, the same as any man of a certain age would give, was that I played as a youngster. We had a few games, and that was it. I was hooked. It is a sport of such simplicity, beauty, cunning, intelligence and nerve.

It's also a sport that you don't need to set aside half a day to play (even if we'd like to). You don't need to spend loads of money on gear (although one of our mutual friends who was brought into the circle of obsession has now bought special shoes, carbon bats and even a robot that helps him practise!).

It can be played between the sexes. And, in its doubles form, it is about the most companionable game there is. Our ping-pong circle has grown to such an extent that any lunch, tea or dinner invitation we make or receive has to include at least a best-of-11 series.

Yes, I know it sounds rather sad, but we've all given up at least one vice along the way, so we can't be begrudged a little harmless fun, although I admit our infatuation might be reaching alarming proportions.

I actually found myself dreaming I was playing against Tony Blair the other night. I'd just heard him speak at an event, and he'd clearly made it through to my subconscious. I smashed him, I believe. So much for reconciliation!