The “Peace Through Sport Dinner”, held in Houston, Texas, celebrated 50 years of Ping Pong Diplomacy. The dinner was hosted by Harris County Houston Sports Authority, Chinese Civic Center, International Table Tennis Federation, International Table Tennis Federation Foundation, World Table Tennis Championships Finals Local Organizing Committee, the Richard Nixon Foundation and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations. Sponsors included China Star Restaurants and Houston Methodist Hospital.
Bush China Foundation Founder and Chairman Neil Bush spoke at the dinner. Other speakers included Christopher Nixon Cox, grandson of President Richard Nixon and U.S. Congressman Al Green. The event began with an American drum line and followed with traditional Chinese dragon dancers. The program also featured three of the members of the Team USA Ping Pong Diplomacy team from 1971-1972 (Connie Sweeris, Judy Hoarfrost and Olga Soltesz) and a special gift exchange between Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner and Chinese Table Tennis Association head Liu Guoliang. During the program, it was announced that the USA and China would be joining together for a doubles match. This had never been done before and resulted in a bronze medal, which was the first time in 62 years for the USA to be on the medal stand. Lily Zhang of the USA and Lin Gaoyuan of China teamed up to capture the bronze medal and add another successful chapter to the sporting history.
The dinner concluded with a new tradition: the “Turning of the Scarf” ceremony. The purpose is to commemorate Ping Pong Diplomacy, a message of friendship and peace passed on from the very first athletes who traveled to China 50 years ago to the newest players in table tennis. From this point forward, before every World Championships begin, there will be a “Turning of the Scarf” ceremony to help all athletes remember the significance of what began 50 years ago and lives on to this day. It will also be the legacy of Houston and a remembrance that the city hosted the first-ever World Championships in the USA or in the Americas and started this great tradition.