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Players punished for romancing

January 07, 2004 21:25 IST
Sports powerhouse China has expelled four table-tennis players in accordance to an unwritten law in the country, which bans romance while training.

The players punished included Bai Yang, 19, reportedly the girlfriend of men's world no. 1 Ma Lin, and the 17-year-old Fan Ying who went out with newly-crowned ITTF pro tour finals winner Wang Hao. World no. 9 Li Nan, 21, and her boyfriend Hou Yingchao, 21, were both dismissed.

They were sent back to provincial clubs but were told that the national team was still open for them if "they can come back on track and concentrate on training and competition", Xinhua news agency reported.

However, the harsh punishment meted out to the players has triggered a debate whether Chinese athletes can have romance with their teammates, the report said.

"It is not fair for girls like Bai Yang and Fan Ying to sacrifice their own careers for their big name boyfriends," said a player who insisted on staying anonymous.

"Ma Lin and Wang Hao avoided punishment because their training was not affected, and they have to shoulder tasks at the Athens Olympic Games," men's head coach Liu Guoliang said.

There is an unwritten rule that does not allow players under 20 years of age to engage in romance in the national table tennis team. However, Bai will turn 20 late this year and Li and Hou both are above the age limit of the rule.

"This is

the rule that we need to comply with. I accept the punishment and have nothing to complain. What I want is that you reporters leave me alone for a while," Bai said after she was sent to her home province Hebei.

Li Yongbo, head coach of the Chinese badminton team, was shocked by the news.

"In my team, we do not encourage players to have love affairs but we do not forbid romance or expel players because of this," he said.

Former world badminton champion Sun Jun had been dating Olympic champion Ge Fei for years before the two retired in 2001 and got married in 2002.

Compared with the "romantic" badminton squad, the table tennis team has long been labeled as "strict" under head coach Cai Zhenhua.

"The dismissal is a special measure at a special moment.  We took the action after discussion with all national team coaches. We believe that we are a special group of people, we need special management," Cai said.

"All the players need to concentrate on Olympic preparations right now," Cai said after the men's and women's team went to Xiamen, Fujian province, and Zhengding, Hebei province, separately for the secluded winter training.

There have been similar strict punishments before when former world women's doubles champion Yang Ying was once sent home after she was 90 minutes late for a training session and former world top defensive player Ding Song had been kicked out for smoking.

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