Once in a while, Sports Illustrated comes up with a fascinating article, with the quality of research and writing able to rival anything published by the New Yorker. Last year, they had what can only be described as a lyrical essay on Basketball player Rob Jones, the grandson of Jim Jones, the cult leader whose dubious distinction is having organized the largest scale mass suicide in American history (remember all those Kool-Aid jokes?).
The current issue presents an article that looks back on Ping Pong Diplomacy. A very interesting read especially for those of us who were not alive to witness this major breakthrough between Nixon and Mao. Of course, like many legends, the so-called myth that diplomatic relations returned between the two great powers and a major nuclear catastrophe was averted because two young Ping Pong players from each country forged an unlikely friendship is, by and large, a media created myth. The Kissinger-Nixon team had for a long time prior recognized the need to open relations with a country of one billion people living in “angry isolation.” Still, it is very interesting to see how the high profile sports match up resulted in a US sports team setting foot behind the Bamboo curtain for the first time since the Revolution.
One cannot help but draw parallels, as wishful as they may be, with today’s situation with Iran. As one person on this website once said (sorry, don’t remember who), politics and religion divide us, but sports and arts can unite us. I may make jokes about the conspiracy theory behind setting up US and Iran against each other in the World Cup a decade ago but seriously, is it that far fetched? Sure it was a great marketing ploy from FIFA to pair this unlikely duo but maybe it was also a behind the doors attempt to start a dialogue between the two countries? In any case, those efforts seem long ago abandoned today, in the post 9/11 era of Dubya and Ahmadinejad.