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sunday.streets.9.16.jpgThis weekend’s installation of Sunday Streets, which returns to San Francisco’s Chinatown and North Beach after a three-year hiatus, will feature the first citywide table tennis tournament to commemorate the 40th anniversary of “Ping Pong Diplomacy.”

“We’re especially excited to present an activity that symbolized the beginning of friendly relations between the United States and China,” Mayor Ed Lee said.

The exchange of table tennis players between the U.S. and China starting in 1971 led to President Nixon’s trip to China the following year and the eventual reopening of relations between the two countries.

For two ping-pong players, the tournament might be about more than just the game–it could mean a chance to smooth feathers ruffled by political maneuvering.

Lee challenged Supervisor John Avalos, a fellow candidate for November’s mayoral race, during an appearance he made at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to a ping-pong showdown by another mayoral hopeful.

Avalos received the invitation during the meeting after questioning the usefulness of the mayor’s voter-mandated monthly appearances before the board.

“How’s your game?” Avalos asked Lee in response, and the mayor said his game focused on diplomacy.

The tournament features five-member teams fielded from around the city and representatives from local organizations playing for prizes. An opening ceremony with the mayor will be held at 9 a.m. in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, where the competition’s closing award ceremony will also take place at 11:30 a.m.

Ping-pong isn’t the only new addition to the car-free event. Lee also announced the first Sunday Streets “Walking Street,” which will run along Grant Avenue between Lombard and Bush streets.

The free event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., is open to the public and offers family-oriented activities along the route.

The neighborhoods alleys–including Kerouac and Fresno alleys–will feature art, music and other activities throughout the day.

Young cyclists can learn how to ride a bike or practice their skills at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s “Freedom from Training Wheels” event. The bike coalition will also provide valet bike parking free of charge.

To sign up your team for the table tennis tournament or to find more information about the event visit To volunteer, go to

The last Sunday Streets event in 2011 is scheduled to take place Oct. 23 in the Mission District.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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