Can table tennis bring rivals closer?


THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Forty years after a week of table tennis exhibition matches helped restore relations between the United States and China, pingpong diplomacy is making a comeback.

An international organization that seeks to foster peace through sports says it is organizing a two-day, 10-nation table tennis tournament in Qatar intended to "encourage dialogue and good relations between nations."

Organizers say the Nov. 21-22 event will feature players from the United States, China, Iran, North Korea, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Russia, Japan and Qatar.

The group Peace and Sport announced the tournament Tuesday with the International Table Tennis Federation at the World Table Tennis Championships in Rotterdam.

"Onlookers will include key government officials and diplomats from each of the competing nations, fostering political communication and relations at the highest level," the organizations said in a joint statement.

Peace and Sport's president and founder, Joel Bouzou, believes sports can act as a "major political lever ... in the international diplomatic arena."

He hopes the table tennis tournament "will allow us to reach a stage where we can bury the quarrels of the past, encourage dialogue between certain countries and more globally, promote mutual understanding and peace."

The Doha tournament recalls the trip, amid escalating Cold War rhetoric, of an American table tennis team to China in April 1971. The matches helped open China to the world and paved the way for a groundbreaking visit from U.S. President Richard Nixon the following year when the countries established diplomatic channels.