Top Chinese table tennis stars pull out of China Open after coach reshuffle

Triple Olympic gold medallist Ma Long plus two others withdraw from Chengdu tournament after long-serving coach Liu Guoliang is removed as the General Administration of Sports of China condemn their no-show

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 12:16am

Triple Olympic gold medallist Ma Long and two other well-known national players from the China squad have said they would take no further part in the China Open being played in Chengdu because they miss their coach Liu Guoliang, who was removed from his post after more than a decade at the helm.

Ma, who was the Olympic singles champion in Rio last year and was a member of China’s gold medal winning team in Rio and at the London Games four years earlier, has joined world number three and Rio Olympic team gold medallist Xu Xin and 20-year-old youngster Fan Zhendong, a member of China’s gold medal winning team at the Tokyo World Championships in 2014, on the sidelines.

Ma Lin, a retired player and a former men’s doubles gold medallist from the 2004 Athens Games with Chen Qi, and men’s coach Qin Zhijian were also involved in the protest.

Ma Long, Xu and Fan were competing at the China Open in Chengdu at the Sichuan Provincial Gymnasium this week but will take no further part “because they have no desire to play without their coach” according to media reports, who say the players didn’t show up for their matches on Friday with the referee awarding victory to their opponents.

The mainland’s top sports body, the General Administration of Sports of China, condemned the actions and demanded that the Chinese Table Tennis Association investigate the matter and “deal with the incident severely”.

“The act of forfeiting without authorisation and leaving without notice during a major international tournament shows no regard for neither the athlete’s ethical code and code of conduct, nor for the interest and glory of the country, [and] it is also disrespectful to the opponent and to the spectators. This kind of behaviour is wrong and we are strongly against it,” a statement from the government body said.

In a statement published on Saturday night, the Chinese Table Tennis Association said it had found more deep-root management problems within the national table tennis team following the investigation into [former player and coach] Kong Linghui’s casino scandal. As part of managerial reform, it decided to cancel the team’s chief coach and head coaches for men and women, and instead establish two coaching teams for male and female players.

The association said it had communicated with Liu before inviting him to be a deputy chairman of the association.

The association said it felt “shocked and heart-broken” for Chinese players and coaches quitting games.

Ma Long is a six-time China Open men’s singles champion.

Liu, who enjoyed a strong bond with the players, this week stepped down as head coach of the country’s table tennis team as part of a management restructuring exercise, according to state media.

The 41-year-old, who won the singles and doubles gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was promoted to deputy-chairman of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, the Xinhua news agency reported, citing the association.

Liu was appointed coach of the national men’s team at the age of 27 in 2003. He handed the men’s team coaching duties to Qin in April 2017 while remaining as head coach until this week.

China dominate the world in table tennis, winning 28 out of 32 gold medals awarded since the sport became part of the Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

Xinhua said the restructuring was to improve training and efficiency in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The men’s and women’s national teams would be managed separately in future, it said.

Liu’s former table tennis partner, Kong Linghui, was suspended in May as the national women’s team coach after a Singaporean hotel sued him over a gambling debt. A friend was later reported to have settled the debt.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse