China suspends table tennis coach over MBS lawsuit

Mr Kong Linghui at the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Wuxi, China, last month. The head coach of China's women's team is considered one of the all-time greats of table tennis.
Mr Kong Linghui at the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Wuxi, China, last month. The head coach of China's women's team is considered one of the all-time greats of table tennis.PHOTO: REUTERS

Integrated resort filed writ in HK to recover $454k that 'Ping Pong Prince' allegedly owes

China has suspended double Olympic table tennis champion Kong Linghui as head coach of the country's women's team after Marina Bay Sands (MBS) sued him in a Hong Kong court to recover money he still owes the integrated resort.

The Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) announced this on its website yesterday following media reports that MBS had filed a suit last week to get back $454,375 of $1 million Mr Kong allegedly borrowed in 2015.

The writ submitted to the Hong Kong High Court said Mr Kong, who won gold medals at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games, signed a credit agreement two years ago to borrow $1 million from MBS.

It added that he had since repaid $545,625, but failed to offset the balance in full, leaving $454,375 unpaid.

China has a "zero-tolerance attitude" towards behaviour which violates sporting ethics and laws, the General Administration of Sport, the country's top sports body, said in a statement on its website.

The government agency apologised for the "adverse social impact caused by this matter", and promised a full investigation.

"From the CTTA's preliminary decision, we will conduct a further investigation and take serious actions according to our rules and regulations," it said.

Mr Kong is considered one of the all-time greats of table tennis and is dubbed Ping Pong Prince in the Chinese-speaking world.

Mr Kong said in a statement on his Weibo account that though he borrowed money from MBS for his family and friends while on holiday in Singapore, he did not use it to gamble and that he found out about the debt dispute only on Monday .

Court documents filed by MBS said Mr Kong signed a credit agreement in February 2015 to borrow $1 million, $100,000 of which went to a deposit to establish him as a "premium player".

The Singapore-based company did not say in the writ why it chose to file its case in Hong Kong, said local media reports. MBS declined to comment when approached by The Straits Times on Monday.

Drafted into China's national team in 1991 when he was 16, Mr Kong became famous after winning the grand slam of titles - the World Championships, World Cup and Olympics - between the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He is considered one of the all-time greats of table tennis, and is dubbed Ping Pong Prince in the Chinese-speaking world.

Mr Kong, who was in Germany with China's national team for the ongoing World Table Tennis Championships, has also been ordered by the CTTA to return to China to help with the investigation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'China suspends table tennis coach over MBS lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe