Table Tennis: Love matches ruled out for China's Olympic team

Aphrodite shed a few tears yesterday. The Goddess of Love seemed to be ignored when four players were dropped from China's Olympic table tennis squad for Athens for having "romantic affairs".

Three women, the world No 9 Li Nan, Bai Yang and Fan Ying, have been sent home to "carry out deep reflection," Cai Zhenhuam, the national team's head coach,was reported yesterday as saying in Shanghai. Men's player Hou Yingchao, said to be Li's boyfriend, was also sent home.

"This is an Olympic year, and we are facing an arduous task," Cai was quoted as telling a national team meeting at the weekend. He said the removed players "engaged in romantic affairs, affecting training".

Li Yuhuan, a Chinese table tennis association official, said it was possible the four players could be allowed back into the squad if they "deal well with their personal affairs".

"Dating is not against the law or regulations. But as professional players, they only have a few years to train and compete. They cannot spend it too much on dating," the official commented.

Ma Lin, the world No 1, is thought to be Bai's boyfriend but avoided punishment because he is expected to be a key player at the Olympic Games. Ma's doubles partner Wang Hao wasn't punished either, despite being identified as involved with Fan Ying.

The association admitted that higher-ranked players were treated leniently. "We let the more important person [in the couples] stay because they have the heavier burdens and responsibilities," the official said.

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