Minitrue: Quiet on Top Players’ Ping Pong Protest

The following instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

All websites: without exception, do not report on news related to the Liu Guoliang incident at the China Open.

All websites: notify all clients that news related to Liu Guoliang’s reassignment and the Chinese men’s team dropping out of the competition is to be held back behind the scenes. (June 23) [Chinese]

Several of China’s top table tennis players—Ma Long, Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin—forfeited their matches in a major international tournament in Chengdu on Friday in protest at their head coach Liu Guoliang’s nominal promotion to a senior administrative position in the sport’s national governing body. The International Table Tennis Federation has threatened sanctions against the Chinese team as a result of the incident. From Fan Liya at Sixth Tone:

Their surprising absence was preceded by near-identical Weibo microblog posts from the three players and two of their coaches that read, “We have no desire to fight now … all because we miss you, Liu Guoliang.”

[…] Liu’s transfer follows the suspension last month of Kong Linghui, head of the women’s table tennis team, over a gambling debt scandal.

On Saturday evening the Chinese Table Tennis Association released a statement expressing its disappointment about the players’ actions. The organization also gave further explaination about the decision to change Liu’s job, saying that following Kong’s suspension, “the organization conducted a thourough investigation into the incident, which led to the uncovering of many problems at the administrative level.”

[…] By Friday evening, the posts by the players and coaches had been deleted, and the comment sections under articles about the story had been disabled. “You won against the world,” read one highly upvoted comment in response to the news, “but lost against your own country.” [Source]

The three players later posted an apology from the team, expressing regret at the negative social impact of their "impulsive act," and saying that they had undertaken it without fully understanding the management shake-up of which Liu’s reassignment was part. "Benefit to the motherland," the statement says near its end, "comes before all else." The posts have attracted tens of thousands of comments, many supportive of the athletes but scathing of the sports authorities. CDT cartoonist Badiucao, meanwhile, commemorated the three players’ act of solidarity:

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.