Liang Jingkun, the Chinese ping pong player, was shouted at “yellow banana” while he was playing against his British counterpart Liam Pitchford at the 2021 World Table Tennis Championships. This incident occurred this past Saturday, as according to the state-owned media The Global Times on 29 November.
It was reported that a white male spectator started calling out the racist remarks “loudly and on-loop” during the sixth seed Liang’s 4-3 victory over Liam Pitchford at the George R Brown Convention Centre in Houston, Texas.
Following an intense fight in the fourth-round encounter, where the score was lodged at 8-4 in the tiebreaker, Pitchford who had just won a goal motioned for a rest and had taken out a banana to eat while Liang was talking to his coach. This was when the man began chanting in English, which led to several members of the crowd echoing around in succession, shouting for a while before they stopped.
“Given that the word ‘banana’ is an insult to the yellow race in English slang, and based on the actual circumstances, it is also reasonable to suspect that he was actually making a racist insult against Liang”, read the article in The Global Times. It is currently impossible to identify individuals who were involved in the incident as no clear footage from the scene is available.
The tournament is set to project a sense of unity and mark 50 years of “ping pong diplomacy” between the US and China, with players from the two countries being paired up in the mixed doubles event. The occurrence of the incident has more or less left a sour taste in the sentiment of unifying through this event, with racist remarks such as in this round cementing the concerns of difficulties between people.
In an interview with China Media Group, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has denounced the act. “As soon as we got that complaint, together with local organisers, we took it very, very serious, and we started to take actions,” said Steve Dainton, Group CEO of ITTF, “If anything was ever heard again, we would take those people out,” Dainton added.
The ITTF had also released a statement on Sunday to Xinhua news saying that it “won’t tolerate any racist behaviour…and table tennis family is a global community group composed of 27 member associations and diversity unites us”. There is a small hope that this event is a way for the respective competitors and countries to rally together against the hatred on display.
The unpleasant episode, however, seems to not have affected Liang, as the world No. 9 had made through to the semi-finals of men’s singles, where he lost 4-1 to the world No. 1 Fan Zhendong, who will be competing for the trophy against the Swedish player Truls Moregard on Monday night (local time). If this event, and countries participating, are able to denounce this incident resolutely and stand together against racism there is hope that this horrible experience will rally and unify the competing nations.