Beijing (AFP) - China has replaced the head coach of its women's table tennis team at the world championships in Germany following a gambling debt scandal that sparked a social media frenzy back home.
Kong Linghui, nicknamed "ping-pong prince", has been suspended after accusations he borrowed S$1 million in 2015 from a Singapore luxury hotel and failed to repay the debt in full.
The Marina Bay Sands (MBS) resort is suing Kong to recover the unpaid portion of the loan, part of which was used to "establish him as a premium player" at the hotel's casino, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
The 41-year-old has denied taking part in any gambling, but has been sent home from the World Table Tennis Championships in Dusseldorf, Germany to assist an official probe into the scandal.
He has been replaced by Li Sun, nicknamed "the championship coach", for the rest of the tournament, which finishes on June 5, Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
"His acts have been a serious violation of the disciplinary provisions of national public officials," the China Table Tennis Association said in a statement on Tuesday when it announced its decision to suspend Kong and order him to come home.
Kong's suspension has dominated sports headlines in table tennis-mad China where the game has a huge following, and has been one of the top-trending topics on the country's Twitter-equivalent Weibo.
"I feel there's a conspiracy ... don't forget there are a lot of people who want to dethrone the Chinese table tennis team out there," one supporter said.
Another posted: "Can't they wait until the championships are over to start the investigation?"
Others were less sympathetic.
"Kong Linghui is a public official - don't confuse what's right and wrong just because he plays table tennis well. He deserves to be investigated over this scandal," a Weibo user said.