Almost 100 representatives from businesses and foreign embassies in Latvia and members of the Baltic state's government checked in their polished business shoes in exchange for bowling loafers and a night of relaxed pin striking fun. The Baltic Times Open, an amateur bowling championship created to unite diplomats and business leaders in a casual atmosphere, commenced on Feb. 20 at the Rio Rio bowling club in Jurmala.
Organized by The Baltic Times and the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the tournament consists of five qualifying rounds, spanning the next nine months, and culminates in grand finals in December 2004. The competition follows the rules of the Olympic system, however, such formalities cannot disguise the truth that the game is little more than an opportunity to socialize with one's alley neighbors.
As the hours rolled by and the strike count climbed higher, the growing murmur of conversation and laughter between diplomats soon drowned out the sound of gutter balls and clashing pins. Secretaries exchanged cards with executive directors. Attaches joked with private bankers. The Swedes cheered on the Chinese and the Latvians high-fived the Slovakians. It was truly diplomatic collaboration at its best and professional bowling at its worst.
"Anytime you get people out for informal meetings with no tie and suit, especially diplomats, it's good," said Peteris Elferts, parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Informal contacts facilitate discussion in this type of atmosphere."
Enthusiastic energy, friendly competition and an overall positive attitude were shared by almost all of the participants. Many felt that amidst the informality of the event, diplomatic ranks evaporated uniting ambassadors with treasurers and attaches with task managers.
"This is the first time that I'm participating in this game and it's quite interesting," said Ji Yanchi, ambassador to Latvia from the People's Republic of China. "Its good to meet other diplomats informally. We can take this opportunity to exchange information and build friendships. In this way, diplomatic life is quite vivid and interesting."
As far as competition, the bankers prevailed. Latvia's third team, which hailed from Parex Bank, took first place at the end of the tournament's first round with a total of 465 points. The team representing the Swedish Embassy came in second with 450 points.
Although China's team of diplomats accepted the third place trophy with cheers of victory, a few moments later, after the announcement proved to be a mistake, they were asked to return the silver cup. Whereas in any official tournament, such a mistake would cause uproar, the team members good-naturedly gave up their brief yet euphoric title as bronze winners with a laugh.
The cup was then passed to its rightful owners, team from the Netherlands-Latvian Chamber of Commerce. China officially came in forth, followed by the team from the Finnish Trade Guild and then Latvia's Foreign Ministry. Members of the Ukrainian Embassy and German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce were humorously awarded a consolation prize of free tickets to practice their bowling at Rio-Rio, after coming in dead last.