(AFP) - Chinese sports authorities have ordered a probe into the decision by two coaches and three top table tennis stars to quit an international tournament in apparent protest at their head coach's removal.
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 on Friday (June 23).
China's General Administration of Sports berated the two coaches and three players in a statement late on Friday.
By abandoning the matches, they "ignored professional ethics, they ignored national honour and interests, they disrespected the public, they disrespected the opponent".
"This is extremely wrong," the statement said, adding that teams and athletes must put "patriotism and collectivism" first.
The body said it had instructed China's table tennis association to find out the facts and deal with it seriously.
The International Table Tennis Federation said on Friday it was unclear why the players failed to appear for their matches, but it noted 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 on Sunday, 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 China's Twitter-like Weibo.
Men's coach Qin Zhijian and former ping pong player 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.