Table tennis: STTA & Feng clear on way forward

Clarence Chew (left) and Ethan Poh competing in the National Grand Finale men's doubles final against Pang Xue Jie and Bernard Tan. They won 11-9, 8-11, 11-5, 11-6.
Clarence Chew (left) and Ethan Poh competing in the National Grand Finale men's doubles final against Pang Xue Jie and Bernard Tan. They won 11-9, 8-11, 11-5, 11-6.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Both parties reach agreement on world No. 5's participation in international competitions

Feng Tianwei's surprise exit from the Singapore Table Tennis Association's (STTA) fold in October had raised more questions than answers.

But entering the new year, the world No. 5's future is now clearer after STTA president Ellen Lee told The Straits Times that both parties have reached an agreement on the country's top player's participation in international tournaments.

While she declined to reveal details of the new arrangement, Lee said yesterday: "She (Feng) knows (what is required) for her participation. The fact that she has gone to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour Grand Finals (in Dubai last month) showed that the understanding is there and the new relationship has already started.

"We want the best for both sides. There has to be trust that we will always do things in good faith."

Lee was speaking after the National Grand Finale, an annual competition organised by the STTA and held at its headquarters in Toa Payoh.

MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING

The fact that she has gone to the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Grand Finals showed that the understanding is there and the new relationship has already started.

ELLEN LEE, STTA president, on the association's ties with Singapore's top female paddler Feng Tianwei.

Feng was also tight-lipped when asked about the arrangement yesterday. The 30-year-old would only say that an agreement has been reached for her to begin her season at next month's Qatar Open.

The STTA had previously said that Feng's participation is subject to specific "terms and conditions" being met by both parties.

She took part in the singles event at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals last month, losing to Japanese teenager Miu Hirano in the round of 16. It was her first tournament after the STTA released her, citing a need to rejuvenate the national squad with young blood.

But the STTA chief was non-committal about Feng's participation in team events such as the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in August.

"We are still trying to work that out... we also have to protect the interests of our own team. We've got to find a balance," said Lee, a former MP.

She added that Singapore's and STTA's interests will always be the priority but declined to elaborate what those entail.

Yu Mengyu is the most experienced player in the women's team but the 27-year-old is undergoing rehabilitation after a shoulder surgery and Lee said she would not be rushed back.

"We want her for the longer term and we don't want to stunt her recovery and complicate matters," she said.

With seven months to go till the SEA Games, Lee also spoke about the men's hopes of retaining the singles, doubles and team golds they won at the last edition.

Elder statesman Gao Ning, 34, is now a player-assistant coach, Yang Zi, 32, who also won the mixed doubles gold with Yu in 2015, has retired while Li Hu, 28, was sacked owing to disciplinary issues.

Local-born players Clarence Chew, 21, and Pang Xue Jie, 23, will be expected to lead the medal charge and Lee is careful not to place too much pressure on them.

She said: "We have to be realistic because this is the first time they are carrying a heavier burden."

Chew admitted that it will be a difficult mission ahead, saying: "Of course the task will be tougher but it's not impossible.

"At the South-east Asian Table Tennis Championships , we managed to get good results with young players so that will give us confidence to hopefully do as well at the SEA Games."

Ethan Poh, 17, won silver in the singles, while he teamed up with Chew to win doubles gold. The men were third in the team event.

Pang is also optimistic that the men's team can produce good results even after the losses of the veterans. He said: "There is more competition for places now that some of the seniors have stepped down and that can be a good thing in the long run. There's no pressure, we'll just try our best. There is nothing to lose."

  • Additional reporting by May Chen
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'STTA & Feng clear on way forward'. Print Edition | Subscribe