The 20th National Party Congress is not enough for Beijing to loosen its grip on zero-COVID policy, ping pong is.

China’s Chengdu city, Sichuan province, hosted the 2022 World Team Table Tennis Championships Final between September 30 and October 9. 

According to Bloomberg, international players were allowed to skip the required isolation period upon their arrival in the city.

Quarantine has been nearly an indispensable part of China’s zero-COVID protocols. The tournament began after Chengdu had been released from a weeks-long lockdown from September 1.

International Table Tennis Federation Group chief executive officer, Steve Dainton, says, “You could say we’re an exception, but I think we’re the start. I think sport is a soft diplomacy tool.”

But quarantine seemed to be the only exception, as the game was still operated under a closed-loop system. Similar to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, masks remained compulsory. Meanwhile, around 1,300 athletes, event organizers, and staff were all kept inside a closed bubble, secluded from outsiders.

The two follow-up events, the World Table Tennis tournament in Macau and the World Table Tennis Cup in Xinxiang, abided by the same pandemic treatment. Bloomberg noted that the Xinxiang competition, staged between October 27 and 30, was continued despite growing cases in the area. 

Bloomberg noted that has been a rather special treatment compared to other major sports gatherings. 

The Asian Para Games and the multisport Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games have been postponed until 2023. World Taekwondo and the International Canoe Federation had to shift competing events out of China, while the biennial World Athletics Indoor Championships, originally slated for 2020, have been pushed back until 2025.

The World Team Championships is considered as another major sports event in China for the year, behind only the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Table tennis alone is a national favorite in China, enough to give it a political stance. Via “Ping Pong diplomacy” during the early 1970s, an American team became the first U.S. delegation to visit China since the Communist takeover in 1949.

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