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June 5 marked an important day for the world of ping pong: the sport might actually help promote peace with North Korea.
The International Olympic Committee has officially invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in to the IOC headquarters in Switzerland to talk on Olympic Day later this month.
At this summit, Japanese ping pong champions, Ai Fukuhara and Tomokazu Harimoto will participate in the table tennis friendly among top athletes from China, North Korea, and South Korea to promote peaceful relations between North Korea and the other nations.
“[This] exhibition match (can) give us a glimpse of how sport can unite and make a contribution to changing the world,” said IOC president, Thomas Bach.
“This meeting is another step by Olympic sport to promote dialogue on and around the Korean peninsula.”
According to Bach, the IOC is preparing a program to integrate North Korean Olympians into the summer and winter games being held in China and Japan respectively in 2020 and 2022.
The world witnessed the first spark of hope for diplomatic relations between North and South Korea during the winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang earlier this year.
The last time North and South Korea showed a unified peninsula was in the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships when the two nations competed under the same flag that was exalted at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
With over 16 million athletes playing ping pong worldwide, this universally played sport has proven to open conversation among nations in the past.
This method of “ping pong diplomacy” was seen in the early 1970s when it opened the door for communication between China and the United States for the first time in 20 years. After the 1971 World Table Tennis Championship, Richard Nixon visited China following a decades-long stalemate between the two countries the following year.
Kim Jong Un claimed he was “fully committed” in North Korea’s participation in the 2020 Summer Olympics. As the IOC prepares the specifications to allow North Korean athletes to qualify, ping pong may be the key to promoting peaceful relations in the meantime.
“Sport must continue to build bridges and show what it can do to bring people together,” said Bach.