Evan Ho: Pickleball Diplomacy

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Chinese-American relations could use a positive boost and Evan Ho thinks America’s fastest growing sport may be the ticket.

Is the time ripe for pickleball diplomacy?

Relations between China and the United States seem to be at their worst since the Cold War era, when suspicions, mistrust and misunderstanding – or more accurately, lack of understanding – abounded. The much-heralded ping pong diplomacy in the early 1970s laid the groundwork for a formal visit by President Nixon and the eventual normalization of relations between the two countries.

If you have played pickleball you know it is fun, good exercise, social, accessible to all ages and athletic abilities, and involves just the right amount of competitiveness to make you put forth some honest effort. You only need some court space and simple equipment. It is reportedly the fastest-growing sport in the country. It’s not hard to see why because of its many benefits.

Let’s send a group of diplomats to China to play pickleball with their counterparts. We all know that sports is a common language, so that’s a start. Indeed, the Chinese are becoming more fluent in this particular language, as the sport is quickly rising in popularity there, too.

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The pickleball net – not too high, not too low – will represent an appropriate barrier to keep their talking points moving back and forth. The court – not too large, not too small, with clear boundary lines – will represent an acceptable amount of space to keep discussions in fair play. Such low-stakes, low-competitive social interaction could do for the state of present relations what ping pong diplomacy did 50 years ago. Something must be done to break this growing tension.

As mentioned before, pickleball can be for everyone. The best part, perhaps, is its social aspect. Friends get together, have a good time and grow closer. They reward themselves for this exercise afterwards with some food and drink together. Pickleball diplomacy between China and the United States, silly as it sounds, could have far greater rewards.

With a Perspective, this is Evan Ho.

Evan Ho works in the business school at UC Berkeley. He lives in the East Bay.