This report came out in The Straits Times on 18 Mach 2009:
Liu not up for top coach award (The Straits Times, 18 March 2009)
By Leonard Lim
A PROMINENT name will be missing when Singapore National Olympic Council selectors sit down to decide on the Coach of the Year award.
Checks yesterday showed that former national table tennis head coach Liu Guodong was not among the list of nominees submitted by the Singapore Table Tennis Association for the SNOC’s annual awards.
The deadline for national sports associations’ submissions was last Friday. The judges are expected to meet next month or in May, and a gala ceremony to honour the winners is scheduled for June.
The accolades are the country’s highest sporting honours, and include those for the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year.
The Olympic silver medal-winning women’s table tennis team of Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Feng Tianwei have been nominated for the Team of the Year.
Liu was expected to be a major contender for the Coach of the Year category after his role in delivering Singapore‘s first Olympic medal in 48 years.
Liu, now the head coach of Indonesia, said over the telephone from Jakarta yesterday: ‘I think I’d have been a shoo-in for the award, after giving so much joy to Singaporeans last year.
‘I contributed so much in my three years in Singapore, but now my achievements are not being recognised.’
Under him, the paddlers also swept all seven golds – a first – at the 2007 South-east Asia Games in Thailand.
Last March, the 34-year-old also led the women to a silver at the World Team Championships.
STTA president Lee Bee Wah declined comment when contacted.
The nominees in the coaching category include Mervyn Foo, who coached AMF World Cup bowling champion Jasmine Yeong-Nathan.
Previous winners include football’s Raddy Avramovic (2007) and water polo’s Tan Eng Bock (1977).
Chris Chan, the SNOC’s secretary-general, said the organisation’s task was to select the winners, with achievements as the main criteria.
He said: ‘It is up to individual NSAs to nominate whoever they feel deserves to win.’
And while Lee declined to give details, there are factors which could explain why the STTA did not put Liu’s name up.
The Henan native was held responsible for the ‘Gao Ning’ incident, where Singapore‘s No. 1 men’s player found himself with no coach for his Olympic third-round singles match. He crashed out to a lower-ranked Croat.
In October, Liu – whose contract ran out at the end of last year – also rejected a new two-year offer, calling it ‘insulting’ and ‘insincere’.
But a veteran sports official, who declined to be named, said: ‘Even if Liu’s left, his track record speaks for itself.
‘He would have been a worthy winner, and the win would have been good for continuing to raise the sport’s profile.’
The Singapore Table Tennis Association and former national table tennis coach Liu Guodong may have parted ways less than amiably, especially after the China national had described the new contract that the STTA offered him as ‘insulting’ and ‘insincere’.
But I don’t think there is any malice behind the national sports association’s decision not to nominate Liu for the Singapore National Olympic Council’s Coach of the Year Award.
Nor do I think that the decision lacked graciousness nor a sense of gratitude to the man who helped to deliver Singapore’s first Olympic medal in 48 years at the Beijing Olympics.
Instead, I feel that the decision not only shows the integrity of the new management that is now helming the association but also gives us a strong idea of the sort of sporting values that it holds dear.
Liu may be a top coach but the methods he employed to get that silver medal for Singapore were far from palatable. In fact, when they were revealed, they really left a bad taste in the mouth.
In the aftermath of the ‘Gao Ning fiasco’, which resulted in STTA president Lee Bee Wah’s public chastising of Liu and nationa team manager Antony Lee, which in turn led to the souring of the so-called euphoria that surrounded Singapore’s capture of the women’s team silver medal at the Olympics, we now know that
i. the preparation and training of the men’s team for the Olympics was considered a lower priority than that of developing the women’s team
ii. the members of the men’s team were used as sparring partners for the women’s team,
iii. the men’s team had to share rooms at the Olympic Village whereas each member of the women’s team had individual single rooms
iv. some women players were favoured more than others. In fact, one of the strongest rumours floating around the table tennis community prior to the Olympics was how everything was done to try to ensure that a particular player would get as high a world ranking, even to the point of ordering the other members to lose to her when they ended up facing her in the finals of ITTF Pro Tour tournaments.
Truly, I was sickened when I read all these revelations in the aftermath of the Olympics.
Which is also why I instantly lost my respect for Liu as a coach.
Yes, he may have the expertise and the technical ability to lead teams and players to the top, but it is also clear that his value system is a barren wasteland.
“I would rather the women come in second and the men come in 16th than for both teams to come in fourth,” was what Liu told the media when queried about his coaching methods.
I do not subscribe to the philosophy that the ends always justify the means.
So I don’t believe that the Olympic silver medal that was won meant that all the things that were done to ensure its capture were therefore justified.
I believe in sportsmanship, in fairness and in the notion that everyone deserves an equal chance at development so that they will be at their peak and most prepared when the time comes to do battle on the international stage, regardless of whether such a philosophy might affect our chances of winning an Olympic medal.
At the end of the day, there are just some things that are more important than a bloody sports prize.
And so yes, I do believe that the STTA did the right thing in opting not to nominate Liu for the Coach of the Year Award.
I believe that the calculated move is one loaded with meaning, and that it sends the right reassurances and mesages not just to the table tennis community but to the Singapore sporting community at large.
So, take a bow, STTA.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan