China Table Tennis in Turmoil As Top Players No-Show in Protest
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2017-06-25 02:13:55

The Chinese Sports Administration has condemned the actions of three star table tennis players who purposely missed their games on Friday in protest of their coach’s removal from the national team.

Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, and Xu Xin, the world’s top three male players, did not show up for their scheduled second-round matches at the Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Tour China Open in Chengdu, giving their opponents forfeit wins, according to the website of the International Table Tennis Federation.

Their surprising absence was preceded by near-identical Weibo microblog posts from the three players and two of their coaches that read, “We have no desire to fight now … all because we miss you, Liu Guoliang.”

Liu is a former grand slam champion who had been the coach of China’s men’s table tennis team since 2003. Besides leading the team to sweep most international competitions during his tenure, Liu was also known as an amiable and inspiring personality.

In April, Liu was reappointed head coach of China’s table tennis team. But on Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua reported that he was relieved from his coaching duties due to “restructuring.” Instead, it was announced that he would become a vice president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association. While the move was in theory a promotion, many questioned the association’s motives because it already has 18 vice presidents.

Liu’s transfer follows the suspension last month of Kong Linghui, head of the women’s table tennis team, over a gambling debt scandal.

On Saturday evening the Chinese Table Tennis Association released a statement expressing its disappointment about the players’ actions. The organization also gave further explaination about the decision to change Liu’s job, saying that following Kong’s suspension, “the organization conducted a thourough investigation into the incident, which led to the uncovering of many problems at the administrative level.”

A day earlier the Chinese Sports Administration had also published a statement in which it condemned the players’ actions. “Forfeiting without permission shows no regard for the athletes’ ethical code and personal integrity, or for the glory and interests of the country,” it said.

Friday’s boycott sent China’s social media into a frenzy, with many netizens supporting the players’ decisions. Fang Liufang, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, posted on Weibo that the national team should be proud of the players because they dared to express their opinions in spite of the risks. Wang Meng, a sports commentator, said on his Weibo that while he appreciated the players’ spirit, he did not appreciate their way of expressing it.

By Friday evening, the posts by the players and coaches had been deleted, and the comment sections under articles about the story had been disabled. “You won against the world,” read one highly upvoted comment in response to the news, “but lost against your own country.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: From left to right, Xu Xin, Zhang Jike, coach Liu Guoliang, and Ma Long hold the national Chinese flag as they celebrate winning the men’s table tennis team gold medal during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, Aug. 17, 2016. VCG)