By Les Tan
Qian Le is Dominican, Liu Jia is Austrian, Yang Fen is Congolese and Xian Yi Fang is French.
You can usually find an ethnic Chinese in almost any city in the world in search of a better life for himself and his family. The same now occurs at the elite level of sports, particularly in table tennis.
A quick look at the draw of the table tennis competition at the Beijing Olympics shows the Chinese sporting diaspora in table tennis. 25% of all singles players come from China. If you break it down by gender, 37% of all women singles players and 14% of all men singles players are China-born.
Table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988 and since then, China have won 16 out of 20 gold medals and 11 of the 20 silvers. Given their huge strength in depth, restless and competitive players looking for a better life started emigrating to a host of countries so that they could continue playing.
Gao Jun, who won silver for China in 1992 at the Barcelona Games, emigrated to the USA soon after. Now 39 years of age, she still remains well-known in China and is back in China playing for the United States. Her teammate Wang Chen, who was ranked fourth in the Chinese squad in 1996, also took the emigration route and ended up in the US.
The International Table Tennis Federation recently voted to disallow players older than 21 years of age from switching allegiance and imposed longer qualifying periods on younger players. Therefore, going forward, Singapore will not get another Feng Tianwei who can get citizenship and represent her country at the Olympics just seven months later.
In China, table tennis as a sport is declining with basketball on the ascendancy with the popularity of the American National Basketball League and celebrity players Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant. Football too is also capturing the imagination of the youth.
Women (29 China-born athletes out of 78 singles players or 37%)
Lay Jian Fang
Sang Stephanie Xu
Xian Yi Fang
Tan Monfardini Wenling
Dang Ye Seo
Ni Xia Lian
Li Jia Wei
Wang Yue Gu
Men (11 China-born athletes out of 77 singles players or 14%)
He Zhi Wen