Ping Pong Diplomacy

“Friendship first, competition second, that same thing still resonates and has great meaning in 2021,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday night while Houston hosted the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships and commemorated the 50th anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy.

“As the nation’s most diverse and welcoming city, Houston has a history of successfully hosting major events and promoting peace and friendship through sport,” Mayor Turner said when he welcomed athletes, dignitaries, and guests to the Ping Pong Diplomacy Dignitary Dinner last Sunday, hosted by the Houston Harris County Sports Authority. That evening, special guests included President Nixon’s grandson, Christopher Nixon Cox, and Neil Bush, son of President H.W. Bush.

Ping Pong Diplomacy was born during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan, when the Chinese team surprised the world by inviting the American team to visit China.

While celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy, Judy Hoarfrost and Connie Sweeris, former members of the US table tennis team and former Chinese national team players Liang Geliang and Zheng Huaiying, spoke about their fond memories and how the ping pong ball and table tennis created common ground between the two nations.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said, “I’ve always thought athletes are really the best form of diplomacy, one, it makes us all smile even though we are being competitive.” 

“Houston is a very important historic and international city…we have a wonderful eclectic cosmopolitan mosaic community, it means our neighborhoods fit together, many speak different languages and different cultures but we come together as one family called Houston Texas,” Jackson Lee said.

“This special occasion generates, now, the time to bring people together,” she added that dialogue and understanding brings peace, friendship and the continuity of engaging with people around the world.

Also speeches were made by Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang, Heads of the Chinese and American Olympic Committees including U.S. Olympic Committee President Susanne Lyons, the Chinese Olympic Committee President Gou Zhongwen, USATT CEO Virginia Sung and others.

On Monday there was a joint practice session of the American and Chinese teams at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the day before Mayor Turner presented Liu Guoliang, considered the greatest ping pong player and coach of all time, with a key to the city. Guoliang presented the mayor with an oversized ping pong paddle signed by members of the Chinese team.

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