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Ping-pong diplomacy could return in November

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
Ping-pong diplomacy: Ma Long of China serves during the World Table Tennis Championships in May 2011 in the Netherlands.
Ping-pong diplomacy: Ma Long of China serves during the World Table Tennis Championships in May 2011 in the Netherlands.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Organizers hope the unusual teams can help develop understanding
  • North and South Korea have been asked to form a doubles partnership
  • Table tennis is credited with helping open up China to the world 40 years ago
RELATED TOPICS
  • Table Tennis
  • Doha
  • Qatar

(CNN) -- North and South Korea... India and Pakistan... the United States and Iran. No, these are not the next predicted wars but the unlikely doubles teams for an international ping pong event.

The International Table Tennis Federation and the Peace and Sport Foundation are organizing an international tournament in Doha, Qatar in November, and they're hoping the unusual teams could help to develop understanding between feuding countries.

Joel Bouzou, president of Peace and Sport says he hopes the tournament "will allow us to reach a stage where we can bury the quarrels of the past."

"We have witnessed many examples in recent history which show the power of sport to overcome political differences between nations. For example, the recent cricket match between India and Pakistan, or the qualification matches for the 2010 FIFA World Cup between Turkey and Armenia," Bouzou told CNN.

North and South Korea have been asked to form a doubles partnership. The two countries are still technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean war ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, but the organisers are hopeful the two teams will agree to work together. And it's not just at the player level. The ITTF says key government officials and diplomats from the competing nations will be in the stands cheering their country on. The ITTF calls this, "an unprecedented sports event that will break political tensions and unite nations in a way that only table tennis can."

It is hard to imagine ping pong succeeding where decades of political negotiations have failed but the vice-chairman of the Seoul-based Korea Table Tennis Association tells CNN, "We will have to look into the procedures, but since it's an exhibition match, I don't think there will be any major obstacles as long as North Korea agrees. There's no reason for us to turn this down."

Ju Jong-chol, secretary general of the North Korean Table Tennis Association tells Yonhap news agency he thought the idea of promoting world peace through table tennis was "a good one." "We haven't heard anything specific about how this event will be run," Ju added. "After learning all the details, we will look into whether or not to accept the invitation."

Japan, China and Russia are also being invited to compete in Qatar.

The ITTF says that all nations have agreed in principle to compete. Peace and Sport is hoping to make this tournament an annual event using a different sport each year. Table tennis was an obvious sport to start with, because it is forty years after an American table tennis team competed in China. The matches are credited with helping open up China to the world and paved the way for a groundbreaking visit from U.S. President Richard Nixon the following year which forged diplomatic channels between the two countries.