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Ping-Pong Diplomacy and Beyond

by on February 6, 2014

It was the thirty-first World Table Tennis Championship which took place in Nagoya, Japan in March-April 1971. In the same year on 6th April China sent an invitation to the U.S. Ping-Pong team for an all-expenses paid visit to their country. Nine players, four officials and two spouses were the first group of Americans allowed into China since 1949. Journalists were also invited to cover the team’s visit. This act ended the information blockade put in place by China since 1949 (American Experience, ‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy April 6 – 17, 1971’, 1999). Ping-Pong diplomacy, or more formally table tennis, broke the ice between China and the United States and opened up the bamboo curtain (Itoh, 2011, 183). In the coming months America become to see China positively in their eyes and later it become politically possible for Richard Nixon to travel to China. On 15th July 1972 Richard Nixon was the first American President to visit China (Lovell, ‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy by Nicholas Griffin, review’, 2014). Is sport really that important in diplomacy?

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”cs”><p>Michelle Obama Brings Friendlier Face To Chinese Diplomacy, Via Ping Pong And Pandas <a href=””></a&gt; <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; ThinkProgress World (@TP_Security) <a href=”″>March 21, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Sport is a language everyone can speak. Therefore mixing sport and diplomacy can help meet various foreign policy objectives (Livingston, ‘The Power of Sport: Should sport and diplomacy mix?’, 2011). It is not just about Ping-Pong but variety of sports can be used as a tool in sports diplomacy.

For Canada it was hockey which helped to build bridges to other countries and restored Canadian national pride. The image of existing Canada’s hockey teams and their lack of success pushed the government to establish Hockey Canada in 1970. This body created a series of events on the international hockey scene. Their hard work led to the historic hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union in 1972. Canadian government realised the potential of putting together sport and foreign diplomacy and as a result Sports Relations Desk was established in 1972. Such aimed at monitoring and promoting sport as an instrument of foreign policy. Since then hockey has become a popular and important part of Canadian culture (Macintosh and Greenhorn, 1993).

In South Africa sport diplomacy contributed to the disintegration of the apartheid regime. If we look back at the apartheid South Africa the sports were clearly divided; football for black people and rugby for white people. New local sporting clubs arose in response to the nationalist polices promoted by black liberation groups. Non-racial sport associations were founded as well as anti-apartheid movements. Football created great community connections in South Africa. An example can be seen in the community of Manguang in the 1960’s. The community was denied use of the sporting grounds for the local soccer association. The people decided to set up their matches on open field that they cleared. The city council sent bulldozers to the site to destroy the field after the end of each week. Every Saturday morning the community came together and cleaned the field so it was ready for the matches (Laverty, ‘Sports Diplomacy and Apartheid South Africa’, 2010).

After former South African government committed to negotiation with the banned African National Congress and released Nelson Mandela, reintegration with the international sporting community begun. Sport Diplomacy played important part in welcoming the new South Africa into existence. It also played crucial role in reintroducing SA to the world. Sports played a part in the celebration of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela with South Africa hosting a match in Johannesburg against Zambia. Other major events were the Rugby World Cup and the African Cup of Nations which allowed South Africa to use Sports Diplomacy to promote itself as a vibrant, integrated culture, a rainbow nation, and as a new democracy (Laverty, ‘Sports Diplomacy and Apartheid South Africa’, 2010).

As Laverty (2010) argues, sporting events such as rugby and hockey tournaments have a major impact on the hosting countries. Those events focus the world’s attention like only few other things can. In Canada hockey diplomacy resulted in warmer relationship with the former Soviet Union and gained Canadian nation great reputation and unity. The Ping-Pong diplomacy can be considered as a ‘father’ of sports diplomacy. It helped to build a bridge between America and China and started a new relationship between the countries. In South Africa sports diplomacy united the country and helped to promote the nation to the rest of the world. Therefore sports diplomacy in general is contributing to a positive relationships not only among the countries but also between the countries and its citizens as well.


‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy April 6 – 17, 1971’, 1999, American Experience. – accessed on 05/02/2014

Itoh, M. (2011), The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. – accessed on 10/02/2014

Laverty, A. (2010), ‘Sports Diplomacy and Apartheid South Africa’, The African File, December 13th 2010. – accessed on 06/02/2014

Livingston, K. (2011), ‘The Power of Sport: Should sport and diplomacy mix?’, Exchange, February 14th 2011. – accessed on 05/02/2014

Lovell, J. (2014), ‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy by Nicholas Griffin, review’, The Telegraph, February 1st 2014. – accessed on 05/02/2014

Macintosh, D., Greenhorn, D. (1993), ‘Hockey Diplomacy and Canadian Foreign Policy’, Journal of Canadian Studies, 28, 2. – accessed on 05/02/2014

Picture and video:….0…1ac.1.34.img..0.19.1432.kzs4RoSWLQQ#facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 06/02/2014 – accessed on 06/02/2014


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One Comment
  1. No quoetisn this is the place to get this info, thanks y’all.

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