Changes in store for STTA

After a tumultuous year capped by CPIB probe on 
Li Hu, call goes out for player rejuvenation

VETERAN: Feng Tianwei, who returned empty-handed from the Rio Olympics, is one of several national players who are over 30.

Last October, Singapore's top paddlers Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu fell out with then national women's table tennis coach Jing Junhong.

The Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) eventually re-designated Jing as chief coach of youth development and appointed Liu Jiayi as women's coach. He was later replaced by Chen Zhibin.

At the Olympics in August, the women's team failed to return from Rio with a medal - after successes in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – while only Gao Ning featured in the men's competition.

Rumours soon swirled that the players were unhappy with the set-up at the STTA.

On Wednesday, officers from the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau visited the STTA headquarters in Toa Payoh to investigate an alleged bribery involving Singapore men's No. 2 Li Hu.

Naturally, as one of the most successful national sports associations (NSA), there is concern over the future of Singapore table tennis, with the South-east Asia (SEA) Games looming next year and the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018. Longer term, the STTA needs to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

STTA president Ellen Lee told The New Paper in August that a review will be conducted and hinted that there could be changes as they bid to regain a medal at the Olympics.TNP also understands that the NSA has held discussions with various stakeholders like Sport Singapore and will act on recommendations which should be revealed next week.

Low Teo Ping, Singapore's chef de mission (CDM) for the Rio Olympics, feels there is a need to address the succession plan, with world 
No. 6 Feng having turned 30, and male paddlers Gao and Yang Zi aged 34 and 32, respectively.

He said: "There is a need to look at both the men and women's teams in terms of rejuvenation, as with any sport, so as to prevent a gap in succession."

Nicholas Fang, co-CDM of Team Singapore at last year's SEA Games, believes table tennis is well-equipped to bounce back, based on the sport's track record.

"This is a sport with proven systems, infrastructure and human resource to put up world-class performances," he said.

"With one world title and three Olympic medals, they have shown it's not a one-off or a fluke."They have also expressed their long-term view of developing homegrown talent which is sustainable in the long run, but we must understand that there are no guarantees of a straight-line progression in sports. It also depends on form and development of other countries.

"But, table tennis has grown to be one of our core sports which has shown it has what it takes to deliver.

"There may have been recent challenges for them to overcome but, in sports, there's always a chance for redemption and I believe the STTA will continue to work very hard to continue its success.

"Another local sports administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the recent incidents indicate there are management issues that need to be nipped in the bud if the sport is to move on.

"Clearly, there are unhappy players in the team for whatever reasons, and that is going to have an effect on their performances," he said.

"While player power is undesirable and no one is indispensable, it is up to the STTA to control the situation and get its house in order.

"A lot of hard work has been put in by different stakeholders to get the sport to where it is, so I hope the relevant authorities are able to act swiftly and make the right decisions to move the sport forward."

In sports, there’s always a chance for redemption and I believe the STTA will continue to work very hard to continue its success.

–​ Nicholas Fang (above)

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New, tougher opponent for Ridhwan

After weekend action, Singapore pro Ridhwan will now take on Indonesian star on Nov 12

The knockout occurred 4,000km away, but it was felt all the way in Singapore, by local professional boxer Ridhwan Ahmad.

Ridhwan (above), 29, was scheduled to face the Philippines' Nathan Bolcio in an eight-round fight at the Singapore Fighting Championships (SFC) 4 event at the Foo Chow Building on Nov 12.

But Bolcio was sent crashing to the canvas in a fight against Aussie Nathaniel May in Western Australia last Saturday.

The defeat meant the 26-year-old was ruled out of SFC 4, as professional boxing rules state that automatic medical suspensions ranging from 45 days to 90 days kick in for boxers who are knocked out in fights, depending on the sanctioning organisation.

As a result, Ridhwan now faces a daunting test against Indonesia's top-ranked super-featherweight Rivo Rengkung at SFC 4.

Rengkung, 32, is ranked 130th in the world in his weight division (Bolcio is ranked 221st), and boasts 35 wins (with 13 KOs) from 64 fights.

SFC promoter Arvind Lalwani explained to The New Paper: "(Bolcio) took a fight in Australia and got knocked out in 38 seconds, so I had to find a replacement fighter.

"Rivo is a highly regarded fighter and he's had over 60 fights, and some of these have been against top guys.

"I had his manager's contact, he wanted to fight in Singapore, so we made it happen."

Multi-SEA Games medallist Ridhwan is excited to test himself against Rengkung.

The Singaporean has won all four of his fights since turning professional in February, with three of them knockouts.

The longest bout has gone four rounds, when he earned a majority-points win in his debut against Filipino Melchor Roda.


Ridhwan, who provides regular updates on his training progress on his "rid1.legends" instagram account, told TNP: "In terms of preparation, not much has changed really.

"Our training has always been geared for me to prepare for anything that comes.

"From his record, I can say he is a tough guy. He's durable and can take punches.

"I'm going to need good fitness to last eight rounds, because he has gone the distance in a number of his fights, some against some good names.

"I know I just have to physically and mentally prepare for whatever scenario that could present itself. And I'll be ready."

Lalwani is thrilled to welcome a fighter of the calibre of Rengkung, and says the Indonesian's presence on the card - headlined by a World Boxing Association Oceania super-featherweight title fight between Singapore's Nurshahidah Roslie and New Zealand's Gentiane Lupi - highlights the growth of local professional boxing.

"We need to improve, and the only way to improve is to face better opponents," said the former national amateur boxer.

"Once we are beating people of (Rengkung's) calibre regularly, then we're on the way to being world class."

Home stun champions

Protectors down champions 
and all but seal AFC Cup spot

Home striker Ken Ilso (No. 9) 
marks his return from injury by scoring a brace.

(Ken Ilso 22, 86, Shamil Sharif 65)

(Ken Ilso 57-og)

Home United virtually sealed a spot in next season's AFC Cup last night, after a 3-1 win over newly minted Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League champions Albirex Niigata at the Bishan Stadium.

With just one game to go, the Protectors are practically assured of fourth spot, making them the second-highest placed local team and earning them a berth in the continental competition.

Only a catastrophic five-goal collapse in their final game next Thursday against fifth-placed Geylang International - who beat Hougang United 1-0 at the Hougang Stadium in last night's other match - would see them drop out at the expense of the Eagles.

Home coach Aidil Sharin, however, is not leaving anything to chance, and said he was fully focused on next week's game.

"As far as I'm concerned, we still have one more job to do against Geylang, even if (qualification for the AFC Cup) is in our hands," said the 39-year-old coach.

"I still want the three points in our last game and I know our boys also want the same thing."

Home got off to the perfect start last night, with star striker Ken Ilso marking his return from injury by opening the scoring in the 22nd minute.

After a slick move which saw Faris Ramli, Juma'at Jantan and Song Ui Yong work the ball into the box, the Danish marksman coolly curled his effort beyond Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa.

Albirex looked uncharacteristically sluggish after the high of sealing their first S.League title six days earlier, but they were handed a lifeline in the 57th minute when Kento Nagasaki's corner-kick cannoned off Ilso and ended up in the Home net.

But Aidil's charges were determined to seize the AFC Cup spot, and this was typified by Shamil Sharif just eight minutes after Albirex's equaliser.

Faris found himself through on goal, and, while his finish was initially saved by Nozawa, Shamil lunged at the rebound just ahead of an Albirex defender to put his side in front again.


The three points were sealed four minutes before the end, when youngster Mahathir Azeman showed great vision to play a clever reverse pass for Aqhari Abdullah, who set up Ilso for an easy tap-in.

The win ended Home's Albirex hoodoo - they had lost five previous games to the Japanese side, and had not won in 11 straight attempts.

Said Aidil: "The key today was the boys really wanted the three points and that AFC Cup spot. They also wanted to beat the S.League champions.

"They deserve it for the commitment and effort they put in.

"I still believe the team can play better. They just have to believe they can beat any team in the league."

Albirex coach Naoki Naruo, meanwhile, was concerned by the team's performance, especially with the RHB Singapore Cup final against Tampines Rovers on Oct 29 - which would complete an unprecedented quadruple - looming.

"The most important thing is motivation, which we lacked a bit today," he said.

"Of course I am a bit worried, but the players gave their best to win the title last week... (and) we can learn from tonight and improve."

  • HOME: Eko Pradana, Shahrin Saberin, Haziq Azman (Abdil Qaiyyim 63), Sirina Camara, Juma'at Jantan, Shamil Sharif, Song Ui Yong (Zulfahmi Arifin 77), Aqhari Abdullah, Faris Ramli, Azhar Sairudin (Mahathir Azeman 84), Ken Ilso
  • ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa, Kento Fujihara (Tomoki Menda 46), Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine (Rui Kumada 80), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Shuto Inaba, Masaya Jitozono, Kento Nagasaki, Naofumi Tanaka, Daichi Ishiyama (Tatsuro Inui 56), Atsushi Kawata

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Japanese trio target Tokyo 2020 gold

Japanese swimmer Sakai highlights unique pressure of home Olympics in 2020

WEFIE: From far right, Japanese swimmers Kanako Watanabe, Daiya Seto and Masato Sakai take a photo with a fan. 

Swim stars Chad le Clos of South Africa, Jamaica's Alia Atkinson and Hungary's "Iron Lady" Katinka Hosszu fanned the excitement of more than 100 fans who turned up for a meet-and-greet session at the Kallang Wave Mall yesterday.

A trio of Japanese stars were also in the mix, walking out together, exhibiting that famous team spirit while greeting the crowd ahead of the Fina/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore competition, which will take place today and tomorrow at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Kanako Watanabe will turn 20 on Nov 15. Countrymen Masato Sakai is 21 and Daiya Seto is a year older.

While they are all aiming to win in Singapore, their larger goal is to be at their peak in four years' time when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics.

It will be the first time Japan hosts the Games since 1964, and in a country famous for their meticulous preparation, the athletes are already well into their programme for 2020.

Said Sakai: "The Olympic Games are going to be in our country and of course we want to do well.

"Especially in 2020, when the fans, the atmosphere and everything, is all going to be different, because we'll be at home.

"I think that takes more psychological and mental preparation as compared to physical training."

Sakai bagged the silver in the men's 200m butterfly at the Rio Olympics in August and could well be battling le Clos and Singapore's Joseph Schooling in the event in Tokyo.

He wants gold on home soil, and said yesterday the silver he won in Rio was no different from bronze.

All three Japanese swimmers sang from the same hymn sheet, stating their intent to win at the 2020 Olympics.

Seto won the bronze in the men's 400m individual medley in Brazil, but said: "The value of a silver and a gold medal is completely different. You feel the value when you win a gold medal."

Japanese swimmers returned home with two golds, two silvers and three bronze medals from this year's Olympics, and the 1.74m-tall Seto added: "We are definitely targeting more medals than what we received in Rio because the competition is going to be in our own country."

Watanabe struck gold in the women's 200m breaststroke and finished second in the women's 200m individual medley at last year's World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

She suffered at this year's Olympics, though.


She was deemed to have qualified for the 100m breaststroke semi-finals, only for the "live" television broadcast to indicate she had been disqualified.

After a protest from the Japanese Federation, Watanabe was reinstated but the damage was done and she failed to make the final.

"I really wasn't happy with the result from Rio, but I know the next few Olympics are equally important and I'm aiming to be the best," she said.

Seto will feature in the men's 100m and 400m individual medley and the men's 200m butterfly here, while Sakai will do battle in the men's 200m butterfly and 400m freestyle.

Watanabe will be going for gold in the women's 100m breaststroke.

Their training regimen have been structured to contend with larger-sized opponents and much work is going into endurance and technique.

Said Seto: "Technique and stamina are both key and we are working hard on both disciplines to better compete with the bigger-built swimmers."

*Morning heats will be held from 9am-12pm, while finals will be held from 6pm-8.30pm. Entrance to all morning heats are free. Daily access tickets for the finals are $25 for a day pass and $40 for a bundle package, which is valid for two sessions.

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Parents' health is Le Clos' priority

Parents' cancer fight made it a difficult year for swim star

READY TO RUMBLE: Chad le Clos is looking forward to a rivalry with Singapore's Joseph Schooling.

He owns one Olympic gold and three silvers, which makes swimmer Chad le Clos the most bemedalled South African athlete in the history of the Games.

Only 24, the promise is of more to come at the 2020 Olympics, and possibly beyond.

Le Clos loves racing, and winning, especially when he goes up against the likes of Michael Phelps and Joseph Schooling, but he would give it all up in exchange for his parents' health.

The former Youth Olympic champion was his usual confident and friendly self during a meet-and-greet session at the Kallang Wave Mall yesterday, ahead of the Fina/airweave Swimming World Cup Singapore competition, which will be held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre over the next two days.

Speaking to The New Paper after his flight in from South Africa early yesterday morning, le Clos said: "It has been a difficult year... my dad had his prostate removed three months before the Olympics, so he's doing all right now.

"But my mum is still struggling with breast cancer, and has just done her last round of chemotherapy two weeks ago.

"Of course, it is more important to have your parents' health than winning medals."

With his parents' health weighing on his mind, le Clos took the plunge at the Rio Olympics in August and clinched silvers in the men's 100m butterfly and 200m freestyle, while finishing fourth in the 200m butterfly.

The 100m butterfly race was epic, especially for Singapore's Schooling, who won the country's first Olympic gold medal with a storming performance.


History was also made when Phelps, le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh all shared second spot.

With Phelps now retired, le Clos welcomes the prospect of a rivalry with Schooling over the next few years.

He said: "Phelps is gone, he was the big draw. But you have to create rivalries to make yourself big, because swimming is not the biggest (sport) out there, especially in South Africa...

"I think it's down to creating a hype for the sport."

Le Clos will set up his own swimming academy early next year, with the aim of "revolutionising" the sport and building worldwide franchises from 2018 onwards.

While he ultimately wants to help lift the sport and unearth raw gems in his country, he admitted that the academy will initially be used for "selfish" reasons.

The South African star, who recently split from long-time coach Graham Hill, revealed that he is looking to get "five or six" elite swimmers to train at his club, as well as to bring in a coach.

"I am looking for someone who is passionate about swimming, who believes in me and will take me to greater heights," he said.

"It doesn't matter if he is young or old, the most important thing is that he is willing to learn and is hungry for success."

  Le Clos on...


I was very surprised (with the final), obviously I went into the race thinking that I could win, but he smacked us out of the water.

I wouldn't say he caught us off-guard, but he definitely stunned us a bit.


For the next six or seven years (we will have a great rivalry)... and I am very excited about that.

I am also very excited about the 100m fly next year (at the World Championships).

I'd like to beat him there, of course.


I like his attitude. He works really hard.

He is the first at practice and last to leave.

Some people say that he is arrogant but I feel like he is really good with the fans.

He is really charitable and I have a lot of respect for that.

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