Table Tennis provides the platform for the Korean peninsula to unite in 2018 and beyond
Make no doubt about it. 2018 will go down as a landmark year for relations between North and South Korea. Two summits between their political leaders in April and September concluded with them committing to an 'era of no war', as historic divisions between the two nations begin to fade away – no faster than on Table Tennis courts.
The ITTF raised attentions to the sporting world by launching a Unified Korean team at the 2018 World Table Tennis Championships, formed of players from both sides of the border. The strong sense of harmony between North and South was obvious from the start and an extremely heart-warming sight to behold. That marked just the start of a new Ping Pong Diplomacy initiative, led and funded by the ITTF Foundation, as North and South Korea joined forces again at July's Korea Open, where JANG Woojin (KOR) and CHA Hyo Sim (PRK) claimed the Mixed Doubles title in front of a proud home crowd in Daejeon.
That pride continued to shine throughout the calendar year, as Unified Korea ultimately claimed Silver at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in the Korean city of Incheon: yet another show of unity, which promises for further bridges to be built in the new year and beyond.
Table Tennis as a tool for rebuilding international relations is a longstanding aspiration of the ITTF, which originally came to the fore in 1971 when an American delegation was invited to play a series of friendship matches in the People's Republic of China, thus giving birth to the world-renowned term 'Ping Pong Diplomacy.'
Then in 1991, in a move strongly backed by the ITTF, North and South Koreans joined for the very first time at the 41stWorld Championships in Chiba, Japan. They ultimately defeated China in a landmark moment which saw Korea standing proudly on top of the world.
"The ITTF Foundation is very proud of the Unified Korean team. The players are the visible part of a process that exceeds the limits of Table Tennis and the limits of sport," said ITTF President Thomas Weikert.
ITTF CEO Steve Dainton: "This is another small step in the ITTF's history of helping countries make peace and providing international diplomatic support."
Olympic Champion from South Korea & IOC Member Ryu Seung Min added: "This is not a show, but a reality. We need to promote more relations between North and South Korea, not just as a one-off, but sustainably. That's the most important thing."