Uncovering China’s agenda for Ping-Pong

Table Tennis is not for the faint-hearted, it is a sport of endurance, stamina and utter focus.

Sports presents itself in all forms and sizes, as an individual of the Western World I was not always aware of the extent of ping-pong. In Australia, I associate ping-pong with the legendary game of Beer Pong and a casual muck around with friends. In China, Table Tennis is the countries biggest sport. China is ranked number 1 in the world and holds the three top seats in the Men’s and Women’s leagues. Of China’s population, it is estimated that there are around 10 million citizens who regularly play the game. During the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games, a solid 300 million people of China tuned in to watch the mega show-down between China’s Table Tennis athletes Ma Lin vs. Wang Hao.

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno). As part of autoethnography, researchers are challenged to participate in their own self-evaluation, this stems from the concept of epiphanies. Epiphanies are remembered moments percieved to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life. Epiphanies require a level of self-awareness, they reveal the ways and ‘whys’ a person reacts to particular circumstances or situations.

My first step of investigation for my digital artifact was to sit down and watch a clip of the best rallies in table tennis history. My mind was blown by the skill and endurance these athletes have. My next aim was to sit and attempt to watch a full game to get the feel. My past is grounded in tennis, as a former Australian athlete I thought to myself, it really is in essence tennis but on a way smaller level. So I sat down and had a go, after 30 minutes past it was safe to say I was bored. Some people say its because Youtube provided me with an old and ordinary game, but I also think it’s because I had no clue what was going on…..

I researched the rules and training behind the sport and spread my wings to watch a variety of different games at various levels and tutorials. What I found interesting was that undoubtedly each tournament was filled with spectators; views on YouTube videos were consistently more than 400,000+. Interestingly an epiphany popped into my mind, “what makes sport so culturally valuable in society?” “Why do certain countries choose to invest in particular sports?” To narrow down my scope, I researched the history behind the emergence of table tennis in China, why it is a cultural value and to further my own understanding of the game in order to try and value it the same as the Chinese people do.

To validate my epiphanies against Ellis theory of autoethnography – Ethnography is, the study of a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders and outsiders better understand culture.

As previously stated in my other blog post, China was first introduced to Table Tennis by its former leader Mao Zedong. The sport swiftly became a cultural value of the country, the sport was ‘bizarrely‘ popular amongst the Communist Party of China’s military force during the 1930s. Not long after do we see China using Ping-Pong as a source of diplomacy, this is through the games introduction to the Olympic Games and also communication with other countries.

I found that a brief look into the its history in China and the values that extend past the social norm of sport generate yet another element for my digital artefact. In order to fulfil the criteria of autoethnography, my aim will be to reveal the history of ping-pong in China and explore its globalisation and diplomacy. It will not only allow me to understand the value the country holds for the sport, but also allow me to uncover the hidden agenda government’s hold for sport.

An investigation into the impacts sports culture has on a global scale.

Sports have always been an integral part of many cultures. It gives individuals and minorities a sense of belonging and presents itself as the best opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to unite. With the Internet and television, now more than ever we are more exposed to sport nationally and internationally.

Society not only plays sport, we now participate in them virtually, and involve ourselves through being spectators or hard-core fans. Sport attracts tourism, and has the capacity to influence our understanding of gender, socio-economic issues and build the identity of a city and nation (LSU, 2016).

This essay will examine and investigate how sports and sports culture impact societies around the world. It will further explain the unity sport provides on a local, national and international level.

Commonly, sport is defined as an “organised, a competitive and skilful physical activity”. Sport has become a global force, a common language that anyone in the world can understand (Princeton University Press, 2017). It is a universal source of entertainment, competitiveness, and unity commonly recognised by the United Nations.

Sport is an essential element of many modern-day cultures, and has is recognised as a human right by the United Nations “sports and play are human rights that must be respected and enforced worldwide: sport has been increasingly recognised and used as a low-cost and high-impact tool in humanitarian, development, and peace building efforts” (United Nations, 2014). The United Nation declares sport as a fundamental right and a powerful tool, “in 1978, UNESCO described sport… as a “fundamental right for all”. They further describe sport to have a “unique power to attract, mobilise and inspire. By its very nature, sport is about participation. It is about inclusion and citizenship. It stands for human values such as respect for the opponent, acceptance of binding rules, teamwork, and fairness” (United Nations, 2014).

Sports and displays of athleticism have been a part of society for thousands of years. The earliest recorded sporting event in history was the Ancient Olympic Games in 760 BC (Topendsports, 2014). While only one event – a ‘footrace’ – was hosted, throughout history sports such as wrestling, equestrian, javelin, jumping etc. have been added to the Olympic line-up (Topendsports, 2014).

The first international Olympic Games were held on the 6th of April 1896, in Athens, Greece. There were 241 males, which represented 14 nations and competed in 43 events (History, 2009). The second Olympiad was held in 1900, in Paris, France. Housing 997 athletes, 22 of them, being women. All athletes were from a range of 24 countries, which competed in 95 events (History, 2009). Today the Olympic Games are the most watched sporting event in history with 26 sports played in the summer Olympics (Topendsports, 2013). Our most recent 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio housed 11,237 athletes from 204 countries (International Olympic Committee, 2016).

It is evident, that the evolution of the Olympic Games alone has had a significant impact on international culture as a globalising force, improving athlete and spectator opportunities, while also international links.

Accordingly to Adam Hofstetter, journalist for the Atlantic, “sports have long been idealised as a way to heal wounds, mend fences, and rise above differences among cultures and nations” (Hofstetter, 2010).

In 2008 the province of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia after its bid to be recognised as Europe’s newest country (Bilefsky, 2008). This was long after a civil war that had killed 10,000 people and numerous years of limbo under the United Nations rule (Bilefsky, 2008).

After its years of living as a new founded country, 2016 marked the beginning and recognition of Kosovo as independent. The Kosovo Olympic Committee introduced eight athletes to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (USA TODAY, 2016). Head of the Kosovo Olympic Committee Besim Hasani said, “for the first time, we are feeling what it means to be equal among all the other athletes” (USA TODAY, 2016). Furthermore, Kosovo has also become a member of FIFA and UEFA, which will allow them to compete in the 2018 World Cup qualifying (USA TODAY, 2016).

2017 has marked its first year of Kosovo competing in the FIFA qualifiers, with Australian football star Besart Berisha flying to home to represent the country where he was born (Trégourès, 2017). While losing to Iceland 2-1, the game was more than a football match. It is acknowledge that sports diplomacy has been an integral strategy played by Kosovo to “garner international recognition” (Trégourès, 2017). Kosovo’s participation in international sport events such as the FIFA qualifiers and the Olympic games has been a symbolic way for a newly deemed independent country to show evidence of its existence.

It is evident how diplomatic sports can be, in the instances of Kosovo’s and its independence. It is still evident that countries such as Serbia, Russia and Greece are opposed to allowing the country to participate in friendly games (Trégourès, 2017). This can be seen where the following countries opposed FIFA to allow Kosovo to participate in leagues such as the UEFA. It was not until 2013 that Serbia pledged to stop obstruction Kosovo’s path into international sporting organisations (Trégourès, 2017). While Kosovo still faces difficulties stepping into other international organisations, it is through the adoption of sports that has allowed the independence of Kosovo flourish and become a symbol of the countries identity (Trégourès, 2017).

The Olympic Truce is an ancient tradition dating back to the 9th century B.C (Gary and Rubin, 2012). The Truce “provides safe passage for athletes, families, and pilgrims traveling to the Olympic Games. For seven days before, during and seven days after the Olympic Games, in the spirit of peaceful cooperation, participating countries agreed to cease all conflicts” (Gary and Rubin, 2012).

During the conflict in Yugoslavia, that included the Security Council sanctions against athletes from the warring sides to travel to the Barcelona Games. The International Olympic Committee reintroduced the Truce by calling all nations to view the Olympic truce and allow athletes and spectators to roam freely to and from the games (The Sport Digest, 2014). The Committee went further and established a Truce document tittles “Building a peaceful and better world through sports and the Olympic Idea” (The Sport Digest, 2014), this urged nations to respect the Truce seven days before and seven days after the Olympic Games (The Sport Digest, 2014). It was then that the truce gained immense support.

In October of 2011, the 66th Session of the General Assembly implemented Resolution 66/5 with a view to “building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic idea” (Gary and Rubin, 2012). The Truce was signed by 193 Member States of the U.N. to observe the Olympic Truce for 45 days from the opening ceremony of the XXX Olympic games to the closing ceremony of the XIV Paralympic games (Gary and Rubin, 2012). While we must acknowledge that this Truce has not always been respected by all countries through history, it still provides encouragement to nations to unite and respect one another in order to “enhance the well-being of vulnerable people throughout the world” (Gary and Rubin, 2012).

As a globalising and culturally unifying force, sport also has beneficial impact on the international economy through tourism. Major sporting events not only attract fans on a national level, but also on an international level stimulating thee economy through the increased tourism. This can be seen during the FIFA World Cup and the Rugby World Cup were the hosting countries have made an impression on fanatic fans and as a result have increased their tourism rate.

According to Professor Simon Shibli, Head of Sports Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam, “fans and tourists bring in money that normally wouldn’t be there… This money benefits accommodation providers, local travel, shops – even car parks” (Thorne, 2015). Sports tourism provides the opportunity for increased media coverage, which entices travellers to explore a new opening and also serves the opportunity for tourists to create relationships with locals, which will further stimulate the frequency of tourism in that particular country (Thorne, 2015).

Sports tourism provides the country the opportunity to “showcase the cultural heritage of the country such as its history, historical sites, food, music and overall what makes the host unique and interesting” (Rampersad, 2015). This is prevalent through the opening ceremonies of the Olympic and World Cup Games. These events generate a rapid and increasingly competitive media market, were broadcasters compete to secure the rights to broadcast these events (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005). This rewards broadcasters with blanket coverage at a peak time and increases the marketing benefits to the city in both a short-term and long-term stretch (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005).

Moreover, this is a catalyst for the expansion and improvements of local infrastructure and urban regeneration including hotels, sporting arenas and facilities, transport networks, telecommunication (Rampersad, 2015). In 1994 Brisbane was set to house the World Masters Games (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005). This was predicted to cost the city more than $2.8 million to organise, however, generated revenue of $50.6 million from economic activities (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005).

In Indianapolis during the 1970s, the mid-western US city was suffering through a decline of its manufacturing base, the popular car industry. Schimmel explains that the result of the city not having an image was resulting in its dramatic decline, and through sport, this was able to ignite economic regeneration (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005). An estimated $1.7 billion in public and private resources were invested in the cities construction between 1974-1984, where sports infrastructure was largely emphasised. The city then became a regular host of notable sporting events, during 1991 up to 18 sports organisations and 9 sporting facilities also providing the opportunity to employ 526 people (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005). Davidson estimated that the contribution of sports organisation, facilities and events had an economic contribution of $133 million (Gratton, Shibli and Coleman, 2005).

The image of Indianapolis and rate of tourism rapidly increased and this showcases the benefits of sporting events as a catalyst for economic regeneration – and this can be observed all over the world.

While sports culture enables the generation of peace and alliance between countries and serves as a catalyst for economic regeneration. We must acknowledge the driving force and popularity behind these ideas, that is their fan following.

Support for and alignment with a particular athlete or team enables a sense of belonging for fans known as ‘sports identification’ (Balint, 2010). It provides an escape from the realities of day-to-day life, creates a sense of engagement and relation to others, can establish a sense of unity and can boost self-esteem (Balint, 2010). According to Allen R. McConnell, a Professor of Psychology at Miami University, the strong connection fans have with their teams and sporting idols, is deeply rooted in our “ strong need to feel connected, to be part of something greater, to be something more than just an individual on an island…it’s a very basic social need” (Balint, 2010). Research demonstrates that, for these reasons, supporting a team is beneficial for individual wellbeing (Almendrala, 2015) as “people are looking for ways to identify with something, to feel a sense of belonging-ness with a group of like-minded individuals” (Almendrala, 2015). Wann further emphasises that “fandom allows you to gain those connections, which then, in turn, provides you with social and psychological health” (Almendrala, 2015).

While athletes and teams provide a sense of unity amongst their fans, athletes find a source of motivation and determination from the support of their spectators.

According to Wann “some athletes thrive under this pressure, [while] others don’t”. Without a crowd at the Super Bowl or the NRL Grand Final, these sporting events would not be as high profile and compelling as there are today.

While all sports are different and varying levels of noise control are required for crowds respectively, the American NFL League is one that goes hand in hand with the energy that the crowds produce. The Detroit Lions vs. the Chicago Bears in 2011 was a game that many have not forgotten. The Lions home crowd defended their team immensely, causing the Bears to committed nine false losing 24-13 (Schalter, 2013).

Former Lions defensive end Lawerence Jackson recounts the atmosphere of that night “The Fans. They just went crazy the entire night. With the penalties they were forcing, it was special. I think that was probably the most energetic game that I’ve ever played in” (Schalter, 2013). He further emphasised how dependent athletes are on their fans, “you attach to that energy, and you want to do something that keeps that energy going. It just takes you to a different level, in the sense that you’re not afraid – almost like you’re invincible” (Schalter, 2013). In the instance of an NFL game, silence is a worrying sign – and as a result of this players often feel the pressure to pump up the fans (Schalter, 2013). Lawerence explains that this chanting can often fuel the momentum of the game, silence is natural but certain positions and players on the field often need the support and sound for the crowd as a source of motivation, focus and adrenaline. Lawerence says “it’s a collective, it’s not just one play: it’s the whole game. There are times when you need to be loud, no matter what. When the offense turns the ball over… that’s done with. But the defence is out there… at that point more than ever – we need to let the visiting team know we’re not giving in. We’re going out there to kick some ass” (Schalter, 2013).

While it is evident that according to the type of sport, crowd activity can act as a source of distraction impacting the focus of the athlete and atmosphere of the game. However, it is evident that for a range of sporting events, an energetic crowd acts as a fuel of motivation for their beloved athletes. In the cases of the NFL, constant sound and chanting aids the momentum of the game and provokes the athletes to outperform their opponent.

It is evident that the culture of sports impacts the world and its people in a diverse range of ways. It enables the unification of nations and acts as a source of identity for its fan and further provides them with a sense of belonging. It establishes relationships between athletes and their home and urges cities and countries to modify and regenerate their surroundings in order to stimulate and improve the economic well-being of their nations.

It is evident that sports culture is globally recognised. Since its first origins in the world, sport has been a crucial component in the disposition of society. It influences on national economy, and its abilities to unite nations and communities will continue to prevail.