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China kicks off table tennis aid plan
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To help the world catch up with China in table tennis, Chinese officials have come up with a "wolf-rearing plan".

Chinese table tennis chief Cai Zhenhua has announced the Chinese Table Tennis Association's (CTTA) top priority in 2009 - to make table tennis a more closely-contested game and narrow the gap between the Chinese team and the rest of the world. Chinese media was quick to name Cai's speech the "wolf-rearing plan".

Tying both "wolf-rearing plan" and "table tennis" in the popular Chinese-language search engine Baidu, you will have over 4,600 results, some of which hail China's generosity, with others accused table tennis administrators of hurting the interests of Chinese sports by farming "wolves in sheep's clothing".

Chinese sports media has a habit of comparing top table tennis players to vicious animals. Ryu Seung Min, the 2004 Olympic singles champion whose fighting spirit is admired by Chinese, is "Korean Tiger", while Timo Boll, Vladimir Samsonov and Werner Schlager made "Three European Tigers".

Less known yet promising players like Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Michael Maze and Jun Mizutani are called "Little Tigers" in China. One down in the pecking order is wolf.

Cai, also a deputy sports minister, said China has the responsibility to make table tennis a more popular sport.

"We reached the top of table tennis in the 2008 Olympic Games by sweeping all titles, and now we should share the International Table Tennis Federation's responsibility to make the game more popular and spectacular," he said.

In a gesture of good will, China pulled three versatile players off the doubles events at the Yokohama world championships, deliberately making the competition more open.

Wang Liqin, Ma Lin and Zhang Yining, who have involved in nine doubles victories in the world championships, didn't enter the doubles competitions.

Other Chinese stars like Wang Hao, Ma Long, Guo Yue and Li Xiaoxia opted out of the mixed doubles event, making Hao Shuai and Chang Chenchen the highest seeded Chinese pair at fifth.

Liu Fengyan, a CTTA vice-chairman, said that China had fulfilled the "Olympic Glory Plan" and has now embarked on a new plan of "toughening up young Chinese players and playing a more important role in healthy, balanced development of table tennis in the world."

Cai Zhenhua said the CTTA will join hands with the table tennis ruling body ITTF in making the sport a truly global game.

"We will send coaches and trainers to countries which are less developed in the sport, publish research reports on new techniques and skills on the CTTA-sanctioned Table Tennis World magazine and open door wider to non-Chinese players in China's top league," said Cai, who used to be head coach of the Chinese team.

"As a player and coach, I only saw gold medals," said Cai. "Now, I am thinking more about the global development of the sport."

Huang Biao, the Chinese team manager, applauded the CTTA's decision but criticized Chinese reporters for being sensational.

"'Wolf-rearing plan' is a catchy headline. But I think it'd better be called 'table tennis assistance plan," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 2, 2009)

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