China’s ‘ping-pong prince’ suspended from coaching duties after being sued by Singapore hotel
Ex-Olympic champion says he took loan for others in casino and was unaware of debt
The Chinese Table Tennis Association has suspended national women’s team head coach Kong Linghui, who is being sued by a major Singapore hotel over a gaming debt of HK$2.55 million.
Kong, dubbed the “ping-pong prince”, was penalised on Tuesday despite denying his involvement in a statement on Monday night, urging people not to lose faith in him and vowing to lead his team to play their best.
It was revealed on Monday that the former Olympic gold medallist was being sued by Marina Bay Sands for allegedly failing to repay fully a sum of S$1 million (HK$5.63 million) he borrowed from the hotel’s casino in February 2015, according to a Hong Kong court writ.
The writ said Kong signed a credit agreement on February 19, 2015 to borrow S$1 million from the operator. He had since repaid S$545,625 but had failed to offset the balance.
Marina Bay Sands said it was unable to comment on the case.
In a statement issued early Tuesday, the association said that after communicating with Kong and based on his response to the reports, it decided that his behaviour had been in “serious violation” of disciplinary requirements for national public officials.
“The China Table Tennis Association decided to suspend Kong from his duties as head coach of the national women’s table tennis team and [urged him to] deeply reflect [on the matter], and immediately return to mainland China to undergo further investigations,” the statement read.
The association also said it was firmly opposed to athletes, coaches and staff violating any social ethics, adding that it would treat the matter seriously. It also hoped the case would serve as a profound warning and lesson to improve the management of athletes and coaches.
In a separate statement, the General Administration of Sport said it felt “deep regret over the adverse social impact arising from the matter”.
Kong took to Chinese social networking site Weibo on Monday night to state that during the approved trip to Singapore he had only sat and observed while his family and friends tried their luck at the hotel casino.
“[I] helped them collect some gambling chips,” he wrote.
After the media brought the case to light, Kong added, he immediately contacted the people involved. He said that was when he learned there had been an unsettled debt dispute, thus involving him in a legal case.
He added that he was “deeply disturbed” by the negative impact the matter had brought to his team.
Kong made his name on the world stage between the late 1990s and early 2000s by becoming one of the very few table tennis players to have won the grand slam of titles – the world championships, World Cup and Olympics. He won a total of three Olympic medals – two gold and one silver.