Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Table tennis champ to be `re-educated' after flare-up

DISCIPLINE Chen Qi will spend a week learning about the rigors of impoverished country life and another week at boot camp as punishment for an emotional outburst

AFP , BEIJING

Chen Qi of China returns the ball to Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus during their final match at the Zagreb Open Table Tennis Championship in Zagreb, Croatia, in this Jan. 28 file photo.

PHOTO: AP

Chinese Olympic table tennis champion Chen Qi's temper tantrum at a recent tournament did not amuse the country's famously strict sports discipline chiefs.

With echoes of the Cultural Revolution, and just two years out from the Beijing Olympics, Chen was ordered to be "re-educated" as part of an extraordinary set of punishments that have cast light on how China moulds its world-beating table tennis squad.

Chen, a 21-year-old who won gold in the men's doubles at the Athens Games, infuriated his mentors when he threw the ball and kicked a chair after losing the final of the Asia Cup in Japan on March 5 to compatriot Wang Hao.

"The case is very serious and the influence is extremely bad. A case this serious has hardly been seen over the past 50 years of Chinese table tennis history," China's table tennis association said in a statement.

"The principle is to treat the disease and save the person, and give a lesson to the whole team," it said.

Just as Mao Zedong (毛澤東) banished intellectuals to the countryside to "learn from the impoverished peasants" during the Cultural Revolution, Chen will be sent to work in a remote area of China for one week sometime over the next six months.

"Only by experiencing the hardship of impoverished country life can he learn his mistakes," the statement said.

He will also be sent to a People's Liberation Army boot camp for a week where drill sergeants will give him a dose of military-style discipline.

As further punishment Chen will be fined 10 percent of his entire earnings this year, while he has already been forced into a humiliating apology on national television.

"I lost both the match and my sportsmanship. I made a severe mistake and I created a terrible international impression. I apologize to everybody," Chen said with his head bowed.

"I will resolutely reflect, accept lessons, work hard to change, train hard and try my best to get good scores and achievements to repay the motherland and society. I just ask everyone to give me another chance," he said.

But in true Cultural Revolution style, Chen was not the only one to suffer.

Chen's main coach, Xiao Zhan, was fined 10,000 yuan (US$1,246) and banned from leading the national team in international competitions for six months.

Liu Guoliang, the head of the men's team, also fined himself 20,000 yuan and penalized several other coaches who had worked with Chen.

The money raised from the fines will be spent putting on extra classes for the team members in "political and mental education," the table tennis association's statement said.

Chen is just one of a long line of Chinese table tennis stars to have been strictly disciplined for their indiscretions.

In 1995 three players were fined 50,000 yuan each and forced to make self-criticisms for playing mahjong in their hotel room after a tournament.

Two years later Kong Linghui was fined 20,000 yuan and forced to make a public apology after he kicked the table in anger at an umpires decision during the National Games. Kong went on to win men's singles gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics,

Yang Ying, an Olympic silver medalist, was suspended from the national team for three months in 1998 because she was three hours late reporting to the training camp after the Lunar New Year holiday.

In one of the more bizarre incidents, Li Nan had to apologize to the team in 2002 and endure a public criticism after a sports official saw her wearing a mud-pack face mask to cleanse her skin one evening during the Asian Games in South Korea.

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