Table tennis: STTA will let Chen's contract run its course

Chen Zhibin will be leaving his position as Singapore's women's table tennis coach in March.
Chen Zhibin will be leaving his position as Singapore's women's table tennis coach in March.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Table tennis coach Chen Zhibin's stint in charge of the Singapore national women's team will come to an end when his contract expires at the end of next month, signalling a third coaching change for Yu Mengyu and Co in just over a year.

The Straits Times (ST) understands that the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) will not be renewing the German-Chinese coach's contract, ending a partnership that lasted about a year.

Both the STTA and Chen confirmed this when contacted yesterday. The 54-year-old coach will return to Germany before April.

Said STTA chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng: "He (Chen) will go home to be with his family in Germany. We thank Chen Zhibin for his service to STTA and we wish him well in his future endeavours."

She added that the association is on the hunt for a replacement.

Chen was engaged by the STTA in February last year, replacing Liu Jiayi. The latter, now head coach of the men's team, was initially tasked with guiding the women's team following an internal coaching conflict between the players and his predecessor Jing Junhong.

In a phone interview from Sweden, Chen told ST: "I was informed that my contract was not going to be renewed, so there never really was any discussion about that."

He has spent the last fortnight in Europe leading a team of young local paddlers to the French and Swedish Junior and Cadet Opens, but did not make the trip to Doha to coach the STTA's top women paddlers - Zeng Jian, Lin Ye and Zhou Yihan - at last week's Qatar Open, a top-level competition on the professional circuit which concluded on Sunday. Yu was not in the squad as she is injured.

Chen was formerly head coach of the Dutch women's team from 2009 to 2012, and his appointment in February last year was by request from the national women's team .

The STTA did not respond to queries about its assessment of Chen's performance over the last year.

But under his charge, the women's team returned from Rio 2016 without a medal, the first time in three successive Olympics that they failed to win a medal.

Chen declined to elaborate on his partnership with the STTA over the past year, but admitted it has been a trying period.

"I am a coach, so that's where my focus is and I just try to do what I can to lead the players as best as I can," said Chen, who suggested assistant head coach Hao Anlin could possibly be the STTA's next pick to lead the women's team. "It couldn't have been easy for the STTA management during this time either."

The last few months for the STTA have been marked by high-profile departures beginning in October last year, when male paddler Li Hu was sacked for disciplinary reasons. The association then axed women's world No. 4 Feng Tianwei from the national set-up, citing then that the 30-year-old no longer fits into its rejuvenation plans.

Veteran men's player Yang Zi announced his retirement last month, before Rio Olympian Chen Feng also called it quits earlier this month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'STTA will let Chen's contract run its course'. Print Edition | Subscribe