Disputes over prize money, false claims, and disrespect of authority were some of the issues that led to three-time Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei being axed from the national table tennis team.
On Tuesday (Oct 25), the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) revealed that it would not be renewing its contract with the Republic’s top-ranked female paddler, citing the need for rejuvenation of the national team.
However, TODAY understands that the STTA decided to sever ties after a series of incidents over the years.
According to sources, a dispute over prize money had erupted after last year’s SEA Games, where Feng won a gold medal in the women’s team event.
The 30-year-old had refused to pay her share of her winnings from the Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme (MAP) that was meant for the coaches — an amount of $400 — and instigated other team members to follow suit.
This despite the STTA’s policy that a portion of the earnings has to be shared among the coaches. Even after the association issued letters asking for the amount, the players have yet to pay up.
There was also an issue of false claims amounting to a few hundred dollars submitted by the player for reimbursement of food purchases, with handwritten receipts submitted by Feng called into question.
These included the purchase of 200 eggs for breakfast over nine days, and 10 tins of milk over three days. Feng was eventually issued a warning by the STTA, and the cash was returned to the association.
On top of money issues, there were also disagreements over coaches and competitions.
Last October, Feng and team-mate Yu Mengyu’s request for a change of coach culminated in an ugly spat at the Polish Open between Yu and then-head coach Jing Junhong. Yu was handed a warning letter for the incident, while Jing was redeployed to youth development.
At the request of Feng, China-born German Chen Zhibin was appointed head coach of the women’s team in February — just six months ahead of the Rio Olympic Games.
However, the relationship appeared to have soured in August, when Feng was seen courtside coaching team-mates Yu and Zhou Yihan during the competition breaks for the women’s team event instead of Chen in an apparent show of disrespect to the veteran coach.
While it is unclear what caused the rift between the players and Chen, the women suffered a dismal outing at the Rio Olympics as they returned empty-handed for the first time since the Beijing Games in 2008.
Both Feng and Yu were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the women’s singles, while the women’s team — the defending bronze medallists — were beaten by Japan in the playoff for the bronze medal.
While Feng has since been sent packing, the STTA said on Tuesday that Chen will continue as women’s team head coach, and that his contract will end in March next year.
Feng’s participation at the annual National Table Tennis Grand Finale — a locally-held tournament which gives local players a chance to compete against the national paddlers — also sparked off unhappiness.
She had refused to pay the registration fee for the event and Feng — who had banked in some S$3 million in prize money and winnings over her career — had also complained about the prize money being too little.
Responding to queries from TODAY about the incidents, the STTA did not confirm or deny the matter.
“Disciplinary matters are private and confidential, and the STTA declines comment,” said STTA chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng.
“However, we also believe very strongly in values like discipline, respect and the importance of teamwork and working together towards our common objective of bringing glory to Singapore.
“Moving forward, we are looking forward to working closely with all our partners and stakeholders in charting the sport’s path towards the next Olympics and beyond.”
Feng, who had said that she intends to continue competing in international competitions, is expected to hold a press conference this week to talk about her plans for her post-STTA career.
Source: TODAY Online