Why It Matters: Table tennis medals at stake

National table tennis team women’s head coach Jing Junhong (left) and men’s coach Yang Chuanning (right).
National table tennis team women’s head coach Jing Junhong (left) and men’s coach Yang Chuanning (right). PHOTO: ST FILE, STTA.ORG.SG

For a sport under pressure to deliver at a third straight Olympics, internal feuds and a coaching shake-up 10 months before the Rio Games are probably the last thing Singapore table tennis needs.

Yet this is the uneasy situation that the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) now finds itself in.

Coach Jing Junhong has been redeployed after falling out with player Yu Mengyu and losing the confidence of the women's team. On the men's team, coach Yang Chuanning was given the sack 11/2 years before his four-year contract was up.

That the friction between player and coach has gone public is a surprise, given how tight-lipped the STTA usually is about unfavourable news.

But for players to petition for a change of coach and to air their grievances to the media - as Yu did with The Straits Times at the Polish Open - is an indication of how dire things are.

This is not the first time that a coaching fiasco at the STTA has come to light at a crucial juncture. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, then head coach Liu Guodong was dismissed unceremoniously just days after Feng Tianwei and Co won a historic team silver.

Credit should be given to the STTA for addressing the issue swiftly this time. Few would advocate an overhaul of this extent with the Olympics on the horizon, but better for action to be taken now rather than later, when more is at stake.

Still, this is not to say that the storm has passed, especially with two major tournaments just ahead. February's World Team Table Tennis Championships will be a test of the Singapore women's ability to at least retain their bronze position from the 2012 Olympics. More importantly, the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in Hong Kong follows just two months later. Something still needs to be done to stem the recent slide of the women's team.

How well the issues plaguing the STTA are resolved has short- and long-term implications: whether Singapore can find itself on the medal table at a third straight Olympics next year, and whether a sport that has delivered three of its four Olympic medals falls swiftly into decline.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2015, with the headline 'Table tennis medals at stake'. Print Edition | Subscribe