By Les Tan
Liu Guodong, the man who coached the women’s table tennis team to a silver medal at the recent Beijing Olympics, has rejected the new contract offered to him by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).
Liu Guodong thinks he should get at least US$9,000 a month and when the STTA offer did not match it, he told a local newspaper:
“They told me to take it or leave it. I refuse to be bullied by this kind of attitude any more. What they have put on the table is simply insulting and insincere. They are forcing me to leave.”
For him to say, in these economic times, that $9,000 a month is insulting, is…insulting. He then contradicts himself: “Money is not the most important thing to me. What is more important is that I get the recognition that is due to me.”
So it’s not about money, but anything less than US$9,000 a month is insulting. Which is it?
We shouldn’t be surprised that this would happen. After all, the national table tennis team is essentially set up like a professional sports team. Hire the best coach and players money can buy except for the best ones China hangs on to, bump them up the citizenship queue, and hope for the best. In this case, the team won an Olympic silver medal.
After the Olympic flame was extinguished, the capitalist flame gets lit. In Liu’s case, it’s a raging inferno. Having used Singapore, Liu Guodong now has a larger market for his services and he is selling his services to the highest bidder. It’s time to cash in.
The old International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) rules regarding player eligibility is the source of Singapore’s problems. The rules were so liberal that Chinese players who couldn’t make it to their own national team would show up playing for another country.
The recent Beijing Olympics saw China-born players take up 25% of all playing slots under different country flags. The ITTF, realising this was all becoming a bit of a joke with Chinese players representing Congo, the Dominican Republic and Austria, among other countries, tightened the rules.
From September 1st, 2008, players aged over 21 years old cannot play for their new country at World Championships and World Cups. In other words, Feng Tianwei, 22 years old this year, and who received her citizenship only in January 2008, would not have been eligible to play for Singapore if those rules were in place just a year earlier.
The table tennis players bring up a mixed bag of emotions. While they are technically flying the Singapore flag, they have not assimilated. Hence, some segment of Singaporean society just find it difficult to embrace them. For some of us, we can’t even talk to them because of language barriers.
To top it off, the players get monetary awards from public coffers and meritorious awards from the president on behalf of society. It doesn’t sit well because in some minds they are seen as just professional players who are here to do a job, and when they are done, they leave, as in the case of Li Jiawei who is reportedly making plans to return to Beijing to marry and study.
At the Beijing Olympics homecoming celebration, Liu Guodong had said:
“I have been working in Singapore for two years and eight months, and in my time here my affinity for the country has deepened. I came from China and Singapore gave me the platform whereby I could help the table tennis team to a silver medal, and for that I am truly grateful to Singapore.”
It is unfortunate his gratefulness doesn’t seem to allow him to take less than US$9,000 a month.
Liu Guodong (left) at the Beijing Olympics homecoming ceremony earlier this year. He’ll soon be sporting a different flag over his heart for a lot more money. (Photo ©Ã‚Â Les Tan/Red Sports)