Lee: Dropping Feng was not easy
STTA chief Lee says the focus has to be on the future, and developing local talent
It was never an easy decision for the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) to part company with Singapore's most bemedalled Olympian Feng Tianwei, but Ellen Lee felt it was necessary to make a bold decision to be future-ready.
The STTA president told The New Paper: "This was not an easy decision and changes will also be made to the national women's squad.
"Feng Tianwei, who has been a member of the national team since 2007 and who will be 34 during the Tokyo Olympics, does not fit into the STTA's current plans for rejuvenation.
"And this is the time for us to place greater emphasis on the development of our youth players."
The move stands in stark contrast to how the association handled the player-coach fallout last October, when Feng and Singapore women's No. 2 Yu Mengyu clashed with then-national women's table tennis coach, Jing Junhong.
Jing was eventually re-designated as chief coach of youth development, while Yu was served a warning letter for "being disrespectful and for causing embarrassment to Singapore and the STTA".
TNP understands that Lee would have preferred to take more drastic action against the players, but the Rio Olympics was only months away, and the decision was made to take a more lenient approach towards the players who were regarded as genuine medal contenders.
Speaking yesterday, Lee said: "It is important to think long term and to be future-ready.
"At times, very difficult decisions need to be taken in the interest of the long-term sustainability and viability of the sport."
The STTA will throw its weight behind younger players and will endorse a trio of paddlers - 20-year-old world No. 18 Zeng Jian, 22-year-old world No. 31 Zhou Yihan and 20-year-old world No. 71 Lin Ye - who will be able to lead the national team for the next two Olympics cycles.
Zhou competed at Rio 2016 and also teamed up with Lin to beat China's Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen 3-0 in the Japan Open women's doubles semi-final last year.
All three are China-born players.
Lee added: "Zeng Jian has been a team member since 2014 and she has contributed much to Singapore.
"The STTA will support her application to apply for citizenship. But it is important for us to give more opportunities to Singapore-born athletes who are keen to represent the country at table tennis and we must help them achieve their dreams, too."
To help increase the base, the STTA will be promoting more local talent to the intermediate squad, set up last year to develop high-potential athletes for progression into the national team.
They will provide "more support and resources" to several high-potential youth players whom they hope will be able to reach greater heights.
The likes of 17-year-old Lucas Tan and 16-year-olds Eunice Lim, Tan Enhui, Zhang Wanling and Zermaine Lew have been invited to join the intermediate squad.
Lucas, Enhui, Wanling and Zermaine were all winners in the Singaporean team that bagged a record 10 gold medals at the recent South-east Asian Junior Championships.
The STTA will also continue to work closely with stakeholders, like the Singapore Sports School, to provide high-potential athletes with the best support in their pursuit of sporting excellence.
They will continue with the school-within-school programme in the Sports School.
At the elite level, the STTA will spare no effort to improve its paddlers' world rankings to achieve better seedings at major Games.
Lee said: "We will customise the training and competition plan for each paddler. We are also working closely with the Singapore Sports Institute to fine-tune the sport medicine and sport science plan for each of them.
"There are also plans to engage long-term and short-term sparring partners of different playing styles to train with the team."