London: China's table tennis dominance has gone truly global at the Olympics with Chinese-born players making up half the team draw and representing outposts such as Poland and the Dominican Republic.

The Chinese have won a majority of titles in this sport for decades, but more worrying is that ambitious moves to reduce the export of Chinese players have as yet had no obvious effect. Statistics suggest 25 percent of the players not representing China at these Games are China-born, a similar proportion to a quarter of a century ago.

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The best known is probably Li Jiao, a Qingdao-born 39-year-old who is representing The Netherlands and who was not far from winning a medal after playing a fine quarter-final in the women's singles.

More startling is that almost half the competitors in the team event are China-born, a statistic hinting at how imported talent has been stifling the development of indigenous players.

This remains the case, despite the severe restrictions placed upon such imports four years ago by the sport's governing body, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

It was partly this which caused ITTF President Adham Sharara to say last week that the impact of China on other countries was "devastating" and that "challenging the Chinese" is one of the sport's three biggest needs.

Few could fail to admire the skill and talent of the Chinese players, or the brilliance with which their organisation have taken the game forward, or the value of some of their coaches. But neither can one ignore the intensity of feeling all this sometimes causes.

That was never clearer than in the case of the most famous of Chinese exports, Chen Xinhua, a gold medallist with two world title winning teams and a winner of the World Cup singles. He left home to represent England in world events during the nineties when he also competed for Great Britain at the 1996 Olympics.

Chen's arrival prevented Carl Prean from remaining his country's number one player, almost triggered the removal of one of England's most talented coaches, and then contributed to a period of intense political conflict within the national governing body.

Chen only had to wait two years since playing for China before he was allowed to represent England, and although that period of time was extended to five soon afterwards, many dozens of Chinese players had already relocated, mostly to European countries.

After the Chinese association changed its emigration policy during the 1980s, allowing anyone over the age of 28 the freedom to travel abroad, it was estimated that 300 Chinese coaches and players were plying their trade elsewhere.
These trends triggered the radical rule changes of 2008 which now only allow a player to represent a different national association in world title events if they were under 21 years when they moved.

Even then, they have to wait much longer before becoming eligible.

Players under 15 must wait three years; players between 15 and 18 wait five years, and players between 18 and 21 years wait seven years.

Yet these rules have not stimulated the development of players good enough to challenge China, whose players won every individual medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing, and now look like cleaning up in London.

There has however been one fusion of positives – Ariel Hsing, who is both the result of the Chinese outflow and a home grown talent.

Born and raised in the USA and a child of immigrants, Hsing became the youngest ever American national table tennis champion at the age of 15.

That though had much to do with some very unusual help both from the billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett and from Bill Gates, who came to London to watch her play.


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