China plan ping pong charm offensive

Normally only the squeaking of sneakers or an occasional short, sharp roar provide any acoustic backdrop as China’s table tennis “invincibles” relentlessly power their way to gold at the Olympics and world championships.

By (Reuters)

Published: Thu 16 Jun 2011, 10:26 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:24 PM

But the normally taciturn Chinese are planning a modern version of ‘ping pong diplomacy’ with a charm offensive at next year’s London Olympics, the country’s officials have said.

English lessons are compulsory for paddlers representing China in London, which will give international media a closer look at the sport’s top players such as Olympic champion Ma Lin and world number one Wang Hao.

“This is excellent news,” International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) President Adham Sharara said in a statement.

“(It) shows the progressive attitude of the Chinese Table Tennis Association and their understanding that the players must be able to communicate with everyone.”

Chinese players currently occupy six out of the top 10 positions in the men’s and women’s world rankings, including the top five spots in the women’s.

The country has traditionally dominated the major tournaments, although the joy of winning gold often turns into stony faced silence in front of international media.

Breaking down the language barrier would be a major boost for the sport, whose appeal at the London Olympics cannot hope to match the feverish attention it received at Beijing in 2008.

China is therefore undertaking its own version of the famous ping pong diplomacy of 1971 when the United States team became the first American sports delegation to set foot in Beijing since 1949.

“If they communicate in English then the entire world will listen,” said Sharara. “Which is an exceptionally positive step and adds an extra dimension to the global appeal of our sport.”

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