BEIJING • The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) yesterday threatened to slap sanctions on China's national team after three top players quit a tournament in apparent protest at their head coach's removal.
The ITTF received a public apology from the Chinese team but the world governing body said it is taking the matter "extremely seriously" as it "damaged the image and the integrity of table tennis globally".
"Right now, all potential sanctions are on the table, and the ITTF will continue its investigation before any decisions are made," it said in a statement.
The ITTF said the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) gave a preliminary statement but it requested a detailed report.
The sport's three top-ranked male players - Ma Long, Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong - all failed to appear for their second-round singles matches at the prestigious ITTF World Tour Platinum China Open in the south-western city of Chengdu on Friday. Two coaches also failed to show up.
The national team said in a public apology issued on Saturday that the players forfeited their matches "on impulse without fully understanding the details of the modifications that will be made to the management of the team".
"We have deeply realised the seriousness of this fault, resulting in... damaging the team's positive social image of upholding patriotism, collectivism, and striving to fight for the glory of the country," it added.
Their no-show prompted China's General Administration of Sports to order an investigation and reprimand them. The trio's elimination from the four-day tournament came after they posted online protests over the removal of head coach Liu Guoliang.
"At this moment we don't like to play anymore because we miss you, Liu Guoliang," they said in identical posts on Weibo. The two absent coaches posted the same message.
Liu, a former Grand Slam champion, lost his coaching job in a restructuring announced by the CTTA on Tuesday and was appointed CTTA vice-president.
The China Open ended yesterday with Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov winning the men's singles title after defeating compatriot Timo Boll 17-15, 7-11, 12-10, 11-9, 7-11, 6-11, 12-10.