From the Archives, 1972: Sporting faux pas sparks diplomatic crisis

First published in The Age on July 25, 1972

Now ping pong on again

Day of frenzied calls to Peking – then agreement

Tour will go on as originally planned

Members of the Chinese Table Tennis Team at Sydney Airport in 1972.Credit:Trevor Dallen

The Chinese table tennis team will complete its Australian tour after all

Agreement was reached after a day of frenzied phone calls between Peking and Sydney.

The announcement that the tour would go on was made by the president of the Australian Table Tennis Association (Mr. L. Wharmby).

The Chinese on Sunday had told Australian officials that unless their matches in Sydney and Melbourne were moved so as not to coincide with matches played by the visiting Taiwan women’s basketball team, they would return to Peking.

The Chinese told the Australians they considered the coincidence of the visits by the two teams an insult.

The Chinese table tennis team meets with Gough Whitlam.Credit:The Age Archives

The Prime Minister (Mr. McMahon) said in Canberra yesterday he believed China was using its visiting table tennis team to bring pressure on the Australian Government to change its policies towards China.

However, the leader of the Federal Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) claimed that the Government of Taiwan had deliberately rescheduled the visit of its women’s basketball team to coincide with that of the Chinese table tennis players.

The Department of Foreign Affairs admitted that one of its senior officers had agreed with the President of the Victorian Women’s Basketball Association (Mrs. Betty Watson) that the premature arrival of the Taiwan team could cause “trouble and embarrassment”.

Department officials agreed privately yesterday that Taiwan appeared to have brought forward the visit of its basketball team deliberately to clash with the tour of the table tennis team from mainland China.

P. Pinkewich of Australia plays Chen Chin-Tong China.Credit:Geoffrey Bull

One senior independent diplomat in Canberra said: “Both Chinas are using their sporting teams as political pawns – at Australia’s expense.”

Mr. Whitlam said the Government was to blame for the threatened cancellation of the tour.

“I don’t know whether they were being incompetent or mischievous – it’s one or the other,” he said.

Mr. Whitlam said the Government was responsible for allowing the two teams in the country at the same time.

“Through the Australian embassy in Taiwan, Australian officials knew about the basketball visit and they knew it was put forward a month to coincide with the table tennis tour,” he said.

Demonstrators wait for the arrival of the Chinese Table Tennis Team.Credit:Trevor Dallen

“Any diplomat would have seen there would be repercussions with the two tours on at the same time.

“A vigilant Government would have taken the elementary step of telling the Australian Basketball Association to stick to the original date.”

A statement made jointly by the Chinese delegation and the Australian Table Tennis Association at a Sydney motel last night said:

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nigel Bowen, meets members of the Chinese team before the game. Credit:Geoffrey Bull

“After discussions between the leaders of the table tennis delegation of the People’s Republic of China and the Australian Table Tennis Association we are pleased to announce that the programme for the friendly visit of the table tennis delegation of the People’s Republic of China will proceed as originally planned.

“We are very happy that discussions proceeded in a most friendly manner.”

The head of the Chinese delegation (Mr. Chen Yuan-Kao) would not elaborate about the phone calls to Peking. "I have nothing to add, the statement has been made," he said through an interpreter.

Mr. Wharmby made a personal statement later expressing his thanks to the Chinese for "their untiring efforts to solve the problem which came up over the weekend."

The press attaché at the Republic of China Embassy (Mr. Chen Shih-chi) said yesterday it was "very unfortunate" that the basketball team from his country and the table tennis team were in Australia at the same time.

Mr. Chen denied that the visit of the basketball team had been brought forward to coincide with the communist Chinese visit.

"That's just not true," he said.

"Any stories like that are just rumors."

Mr. Chen said that it had always been planned that the basketball team would visit Australia in July.

The Cathay Girls Basketball Team arrive from Taipei for a goodwill visit to Australia.Credit:Trevor Dallen

"The time of this visit was organised several months ago — long before anyone knew the Chinese communists would come here."

In a radio interview in Sydney yesterday Mr. Mc-Mahon said the Government's policy was that it welcomed overseas visitors, including sportsmen, provided they were not a security risk.

However, the Government did not believe in "mixing sport and politics".

"We took that attitude in the case of the Springboks when they came here," Mr, McMahon said.

"We took it in the case of the ping pong team from the People's Republic (of China).

"And we have also taken that point of view so far as the Taiwanese basketball team is concerned."

Source: Read Full Article