China's top stars protest coach's removal with walkovers

BEIJING • China's top-ranking men's table tennis team were in disarray yesterday after three of their star players quit an international tournament in an apparent protest over the removal of the head coach.

Ma Long, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin, who are the top three players in the world, did not show up for their second-round singles matches at the China Open in the south-western city of Chengdu, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) said.

The fourth member of the men's team, Zhang Jike, was forced out of the competition on Thursday with a hip injury.

It was "not clear" why the three players failed to appear for their matches, the ITTF reported, but it said the crowd "consistently shouted the name of Liu Guoliang", who was China's head coach until Tuesday.

Ma, Fan and Xu's elimination from the four-day tournament, which ends tomorrow, came after they made online protests over Liu's removal.

"At this moment, we don't like to play anymore because we miss you, Liu Guoliang," the players said in identical posts on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

Men's coach Qin Zhijian and former ping-pong star Ma Lin also posted the same message.

Liu, a former Grand Slam champion, lost his top coaching job in a restructuring announced by the Chinese Table Tennis Association on Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said. He has been appointed vice-president of the body.

The shake-up has been a hot topic in table tennis-mad China, where the sport has a huge following.

Last month, Kong Linghui was replaced as head of the women's table tennis team following a gambling debt scandal, sparking a social media frenzy.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'China's top stars protest coach's removal with walkovers'. Print Edition | Subscribe