Table tennis: No scholarship funding for Olympic hopeful Zhou Yihan

Zhou Yihan at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, a year after she became a Singapore citizen. The world No. 52 no longer has the official backing needed for a scholarship earmarked for the Republic's elite athletes.
Zhou Yihan at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, a year after she became a Singapore citizen. The world No. 52 no longer has the official backing needed for a scholarship earmarked for the Republic's elite athletes. PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE VIA ACTION IMAGES

Olympic contender kept in the dark about STTA withdrawing backing for scholarship

She was one of table tennis' top performers last year and is in the running for a spot at the Olympics this August, but national paddler Zhou Yihan has found herself left out of a scholarship scheme for Singapore's elite athletes.

What makes the omission of the 22-year-old more glaring is that the world No. 52 is not part of the Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) despite being the third highest ranked player on the national women's team. Team-mate Lin Ye, whose world ranking is 60, has been a spexScholar since last year.

The Straits Times understands that the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) had initially submitted Zhou's name during the last round of applications - the new list of scholarship holders was announced by Sport Singapore last month - but withdrew its endorsement for the paddler before the closing deadline.

But sources say that the athlete was told a markedly different story. She was informed that her application was not successful because it had been rejected.

When contacted, Zhou declined comment in order not to violate the STTA's stipulation that the association's management must give approval before players can speak to the media.

Responding to ST's queries, STTA chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng said: "It is the prerogative of the STTA to choose or not to nominate any athlete for the spexScholarship programme."

The omission comes on the back of a choppy few months for the association. The national teams went through a major coaching shake-up in November, following player-coach conflicts that eventually resulted in the redeployment of Jing Junhong from head coach of the women's team to youth development, as well as the sacking of former men's team coach Yang Chuanning.

At the World Team Championships last month, Feng Tianwei and Co. were knocked out in the quarter-finals, ending their run of winning a medal at every instalment of the event since 2008.

The spexScholarship was launched in 2013, targeted at elite athletes earmarked for success at the regional, continental and world levels. Not being a part of the initiative means Zhou, while still a professional athlete under the STTA, misses out on financial backing that could see her receive a monthly stipend of up to $8,000, as well as support in areas such as sports science and training and equipment.

However, she is still expected to feature at the Asian Olympic qualifiers this month in Hong Kong. She had earlier been pencilled in for the April 13-17 event, alongside Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Lin.

A Liaoning native, Zhou became a Singapore citizen in 2013. That same year, she won the Global Junior Circuit finals and has also progressed steadily in the Open category.

She partnered Lin to a sensational defeat of team-mates Feng and Yu in the doubles at last year's SEA Games, and also won three titles (singles, doubles, team) at last year's Commonwealth Championships.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'RIO HOPEFUL ZHOU IN SPEX SHOCK'. Print Edition | Subscribe