Stop crazy ping pong xenophobia

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Stop crazy ping pong xenophobia

For all the table tennis fans or, as it’s better known to most casual recreational players, ping pong players out there, an interesting bit of news was reported this week. (I know for some it’s hard to speak the words interesting and table tennis in the same sentence, but bear with me.) The Korea Table Tennis Association is looking into limiting the number of naturalized Korean citizens on the national team.

The stated reason is to protect the Korean players from being overtaken by more talented naturalized Korean citizens of Chinese descent. Although nothing is certain at this point, the sport’s governing body will hold a meeting in the near future to limit the number of naturalized citizens on the team.

The announcement comes as a total of 16 male and female table tennis players are to gather at the National Training Center in Taeneung, northern Seoul this Sunday in preparation for the World Championships. A total of six, three males and three females, get a chance to represent Korea at major international events such as the Olympics and World Championships.

“As corporate-sponsored teams bring in an increasing number of Chinese table tennis players, it figures the number of talented naturalized citizens in the country would increase. We might have a national team made up entirely of naturalized Korean citizens in the near future,” said the women’s national team head coach Hyun Jung-hwa in a recent interview with the local media.

My reaction to the Korea Table Tennis Association’s decision to hold serious talks on the matter and Hyun’s quote can be summed up in two words: for real?

This is coming from a woman who has three world-class athletes of Chinese descent on her team of eight.

I think that these people are also forgetting the simple fact that these athletes are Korean citizens. Regardless of their ethnic background, they have attained Korean citizenship and are entitled to be treated exactly like the other Korean athletes competing for spots on the national team.

Furthermore, isn’t it supposed to be a good thing when a national team’s athletes win medals for their country? Whatever happened to fair competition? The best - whoever can win in national team trials - should get the chance to represent the country. Chinese table tennis is a notch above Korea’s and most other national programs, but that’s all the more reason to have Chinese ethnic athletes on the national team to help to push Korean athletes to train harder and improve their standard of play.

Plus, it will help the naturalized citizens feel a part of their adopted country. Having such athletes on the national team could even help break down the stereotypical views some Korean citizens have regarding newcomers.

To sum it all up, table tennis hardly seems like the type of sport that Chinese people would be ethnically favored to dominate. They merely come from a country where the sport is played by everyone. As such it’s only natural for the Chinese to have solid programs that teach the fundamentals and techniques needed to excel at table tennis starting at a young age. The same can be said about hockey in Canada and basketball in the United States.

The Korea Table Tennis Association and its national team coaches would be better served discussing how to raise the level of their program at their upcoming meeting.

By Jason KIM [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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