SHANGHAI (AFP) – Table tennis authorities hit world number one Ma Long and two other Chinese stars with $20,000 fines yesterday but stopped short of suspending them after they quit a tournament in protest at their coach’s removal.
The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) said that Ma, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin — the three top-ranked players in the world – “damaged the reputation of the ITTF” and “let down the global fans at the China Open”.
But the ITTF said in a statement that it had resisted a one-month ban after the trio promised there would be no repeat in future and explained why they had failed to turn up for their round-of-16 matches in Chengdu, southwestern China, in June.
The ITTF did not repeat the reasons given by the players, but at the time – in a rare show of dissent from Chinese sportsmen – they said they were too heartbroken to play after head coach Liu Guoliang was demoted.
Dubbed the “Chengdu Three” for their actions, they later apologised and China’s all-conquering table tennis team closed ranks.
“The trio did not provide the ITTF or the organising committee any immediate reason why they did not turn up for their matches,” the ITTF said.
“However, due to the players’ explanations, both their own and CTTA’s assurances that such behaviour will not be repeated, the three players will not receive any suspension and will be fined $20,000 each.”
The CTTA is the Chinese Table Tennis Association, which following the debacle pulled the men’s team from the Australian Open because of “tiredness”.
The players accepted their punishment, the ITTF said, adding: “The ITTF is looking forward to welcoming Ma Long, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin back to the ITTF World Tour and for the three icons of the sport to be role models for the millions of table tennis players across the world.”