Hong Kong table tennis fans furious as star players give Asian Olympic qualifiers a miss

Table tennis powers China, South Korea, Singapore and even Hong Kong stay away from the second stage of the tournament to prevent the risk of losing points towards Rio

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 12:27pm

Disgruntled fans vented their fury at officials and even at Hong Kong coach Chan Kong-wah at the absence of star players on Friday night after the second round of the Asia Olympic qualification tournament turned into a farce at Queen Elizabeth Stadium.

Many teams, including China and Hong Kong, refused to field their players for fear of losing ranking points towards Olympic qualification and fans railed against officials for keeping them in the dark.

I am very disappointed and feel cheated as this was a weak field in the second stage
Esther Choy

Two fans who attended the evening session were seen arguing with coach Chan inside the venue, saying if the organisers had announced the participant’s list for the second round, they would not have bought tickets. Teams only entered their list of players for stage two on Thursday night at the completion of stage one.

“I am very disappointed and feel cheated as this was a weak field for the second stage,” said Esther Choy, who attended the afternoon session on Friday. “There were no players from China, no players from Hong Kong.”

Chan, however, defended the move, saying they were forced to do so because of the way the qualifying format works. “We can still make it to the Rio Games even without starting in stage two. Many strong teams like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan were thinking the same way, too,” he said. “If we competed in stage two and unfortunately lose our matches, it will cost us dearly in our team seedings for the Olympic Games. This applies to them as well as they are competing against us.”

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Park Do-cheon, technical delegate of the tournament, was disappointed that many top countries had opted to withdraw from the second stage. “The format is not fair to spectators and the organisers as many strong teams did not want to compete in the second stage. We will take this matter up with world governing body and ask them to change the system for the next Olympic Games.”

Fans who wanted to watch the star players from world powerhouses China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong were left disappointed. Only players from Thailand, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Philippines and Iran featured in stage two, where six Summer Olympic berths are on offer.

In the women’s event, Hong Kong were guilty of keeping their best players on the sidelines, including the promising Doo Hoi-kem, who upset world number one Liu Shiwen of China in stage one and reached the semi-finals before losing to 2012 London Games champions Li Xiaoxia.

Instead, the home team sent Jiang Tianyi and 18 year-old Ho Kwan-kit in the men’s event and they were already the highest ranking players in the 25-member field. Ho is 52nd while Jiang is 55th. In the women’s event, two North Korean girls, world number 33 Ri Myong-sun and world number 53 Kim Song-i, were the higest ranking players in the 22-member field.

Meanwhile, both Jiang and Ho won their first match in stage two on Friday night, beating players from the Philippines and Saudi Arabia respectively. They just need to win one more match on Saturday to book their ticket, although the Hong Kong team can send other players with a higher ranking.