The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) continued its commitment to change in recognising outstanding players of the past season yesterday, in an awards ceremony where the country's top performing paddler was conspicuously missing.
Rather than hand out awards like "Player of the Year" as it has done in the past, the association instead honoured players with accolades like "Role Model" and "Inspirational Award" at the annual Keppel-STTA Awards Night.
Veteran Gao Ning was given the "Role Model" gong, the night's biggest award, while players like Clarence Chew and Pang Xue Jie were recognised with the "Inspirational" and "Special Award" respectively.
World No. 4 Feng Tianwei, who last year won the Slovenian Open, as well as bronzes at the prestigious Asian Cup and Women's World Cup, was neither present nor a winner of any award. She had won the STTA's Player of the Year award on five previous occasions.
The Straits Times understands that the 30-year-old is in Singapore but was not invited for the event.
The STTA axed her from the national team last October, citing her age as a reason she did not fit into its rejuvenation plans.
Addressing the change in awards handed out, STTA president Ellen Lee said: "After seven years of doing the same thing, we're entitled to a change as well... bring ourselves up to date, show that we're sincere and genuine in wanting to introduce change and rejuvenation."
KEPPEL-STTA AWARD WINNERS
Role Model: Gao Ning
Outstanding Performance at the Rio Olympics: Zhou Yihan
Outstanding Performance at the South-east Asian Table Tennis Championships: Lin Ye
Inspirational: Clarence Chew
Achiever: Zeng Jian
Special: Pang Xue Jie
• Junior boys' team
• Junior girls' team
• Cadet boys' team
• Cadet girls' team
• Special Commendation: Coaches at the South-east Asian Junior Table Tennis Championships
She acknowledged that Feng's absence from the awards ceremony could raise eyebrows, but reiterated the STTA's desire to "do things differently" as it moves on.
"All this while we've been recognising Feng Tianwei for what she's done, and we're grateful for what she's done," she added.
"This is an STTA function, and since she's no longer a member of the STTA, we therefore have to look at our existing crop of players. I think it's only fair to the players who are with us, that they be recognised for their efforts.
"It's also a strong signal as well that we do recognise their efforts and that whatever has been done in the past has already been given due recognition and appreciated as well."
The STTA has seen several high-profile exits recently. Apart from Feng, there was also the sacking of former men's team player Li Hu and the retirement of Yang Zi. Rio Olympian Chen Feng was the latest to call it quits.
This has meant additional responsibilities for Gao, a player-coach.
"I have to play well at my events, and also help guide the younger ones," said the 34-year-old.
"Our kids are very intelligent and I see potential in them, but they still have to work on technical skills and drive on court."
Lee acknowledged that the departures have put pressure on the STTA's stable of young paddlers, many of them local-born talents, and could possibly lead to fewer medals won at international events. But she expressed confidence in their ability to step up.
"We have a good crop of younger players who have done well in the recent SEA Games. Our youngsters are showing much promise and potential," she said. "Winning is not everything. The most important is that we've got players who have Singapore's interests at heart... (medals) may be few, but the important thing is that we've fielded them to play for Singapore. In any sport, of course we should be looking at medals, but not trying to haul in everything there is to be won."