Thu, Nov 24, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Ping-pong diplomacy version 2.0 arrives in Qatar

AP, DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Qatar’s Aia Magdy Mohamed serves during the women’s doubles table tennis match at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday. Mohamed and partner Cao Zhen of China lost to Russia’s Anna Tikhomirov and Lily Zhang of the US.

Photo: Reuters

In a 21st-century spin on ping-pong diplomacy, North and South Korea and India and Pakistan paired up in a one-day table tennis tournament on Tuesday aimed at promoting peace between rival nations.

Other teams included Russia-US, China-Qatar and France-Japan for the doubles event sponsored by Monaco-based Peace and Sport.

Iran was initially included among the 10 teams, but withdrew without explanation.

On the men’s side, North Korea’s Kim Hyok-bong and South Korea’s Ryu Seung-min beat Fan Yiyong of the US and Russia’s Grigory Vlasov 3-0 to win the final. The US’ Lily Zhang and Anna Tikhomirova of Russia beat Kim Kyung-ah of South Korea and Kim Hye-song of North Korea 3-2 in the women’s final.

Host Qatar has been targeting sport to showcase its global aspirations. The Gulf nation has successfully bid for soccer’s 2022 World Cup and will make a new Olympics bid.

Ian Marshall, a spokesman for the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), said the tournament had already reaped dividends as the North and South Koreans spent the past two days together, including at a welcome dinner on Monday.

“They met Monday morning and met with local children,” Marshall said. “They talked to each other and were the very best of friends, which is what we are trying to achieve here.”

The tournament also fits into Qatar’s efforts to raise its diplomatic profile. It already has hosted talks to ease conflicts in Lebanon and Sudan’s Darfur region, and is leading Arab League efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Now, it hopes table tennis can ease tensions between some of the world’s greatest rivals.

“This event may mark a new era for ping-pong diplomacy, or in today’s lingo ping-pong diplomacy version 2.0,” ITTF president Adham Sharara said. “It has always been my dream that our sport is used in peace initiatives bringing together representatives from different countries, and have them play together side by side in an atmosphere of peace and understanding.”

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