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Sport is "great healer": Houston looks into World TT Championships amid pandemic

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Houston, Nov 18 (IANS) A lack of a large fan base locally. Challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. All can’t stop the Houston organisers from dreaming big about the World Table Tennis Championships.

“Our goals now are to put on magnificent world championships in spite of the pandemic,” Janice Burke, the CEO of Houston Sports Authority, said of the upcoming World Table Tennis Championships in the largest city in Texas.

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The Championships, running from November 23 to 29, marks the first time that the sport’s prestigious event has been staged in the Americas.

“We are pleasantly surprised ticket sales went better than we expected…Right now we are expecting at least 23,000 to 27,000 people to attend,” Burke told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.

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As for concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, Burke said there would be no mandatory requirements for mask-wearing and vaccination, though the organisers “strongly encourage” all the attendees to take such precaution measures.

The George R. Brown Convention Center, the venue of the Championships in downtown Houston, has designed a corridor separating athletes from audiences and installed a special system to clear viruses in the air, according to Burke.

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She said athletes from up to 90 countries and regions across the world are coming to Houston, where thousands of local volunteers have already signed up to be part of the event.

The Chinese community, representing “a large part in Houston”, is passionate about the sport and “has really helped us”, she added.

“Our community has been very excited…everyone has embraced this event,” Burke observed, “I think it goes to the international nature of our city…we have so many different emigrants and different communities that come together and live together.”

The city’s sports chief also noted that the upcoming Championships coincides with the 50th anniversary of the legendary Sino-U.S. Ping-Pong Diplomacy and thus becomes “a special moment of remembrance.”

“People should not forget that the modern era of the close friendship between China and the United States began with Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the younger generation needs to remember this important and wonderful history,” she said, “I think it’s very important to learn from the past.”

Fifty years ago, the U.S. table tennis team was invited by its Chinese counterpart to visit China at the conclusion of the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. The U.S. players landed in Beijing on April 10, 1971, becoming the first U.S. group to visit China since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The Chinese team paid a return visit the following year. The mutual visits broke the ice in two decades of estranged China-U.S. relations and eventually led to the normalization of bilateral ties.

“Throughout history, sports can be that great healer,” Burke said when looking ahead to the Championships, citing former South African President Nelson Mandela’s thoughts on how sports can unite an entire nation and heal hurts between different cultures.

“I believe that sports can unite and can create really strong friendships that you would never expect. And so I’m really pleased that we can be an extension of that here in Houston,” she concluded.

–IANS

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