Paddle power: Olympian Doan Kien Quoc became the first player in Viet Nam to receive a transfer fee when he moved from Khanh Hoa to PetroVietnam last year. — VNS Photo Quang Thang
HA NOI — Vietnamese table tennis teams are taking advantage of the sport's new professional status to recruit players from abroad.
Two-time Olympian Doan Kien Quoc became the first player in Viet Nam to receive a transfer fee last year – even though the sport was then not fully professional. Quoc was paid VND500 million (US$26,000) to move from Khanh Hoa to PetroVietnam.
Following the move by the Viet Nam Table Tennis Federation (VTTF) to make the sport professional in February, teams were permitted to recruit from abroad.
PetroVietnam took advantage of the move to sign Chinese players Kou Lei and Yang Ce, who helped the team win the International Table Tennis Golden Paddle Tournament last week.
PetroVietnam, were the second team in Viet Nam to be owned by a business – Ha Noi T&T Group was established two years ago, even though it could not sign foreign players.
"I've had a good time with Khanh Hoa but it's time to move on. I wish to gain as much experience as I can before I retire. And when I do retire, I will not leave the sport altogether but work as a coach," Quoc said in a phone interview.
"I think, all table tennis teams must turn pro soon if they are to keep pace with developments in the world," he said.
VTTF has been mulling the sport's professional status for the last two years.
At the moment, under federation rules, clubs are only allowed to sign two foreign players, one of whom must be restricted to either doubles or team events.
"The Federation has not fully completed drafting rules yet on club's professional status. When they do, more clubs will sign foreign players," Nguyen Duc Long, head of table tennis at the national Sports Administration, said.
"I'm sure that by allowing clubs to sign and transfer foreign players the quality of the sport in Viet Nam will improve. However, we wish to limit the number of foreign players a club can sign to give home-grown talent a chance."
Pham Duc Thanh, the federation's general secretary, said most clubs lacked sponsorship.
"Teams still depend on the State for their funds. Furthermore, they are worried about the risks involved when joining hands with a business. Meanwhile, businesses are still unsure of the benefits of sponsoring a sport club."
PetroVietnam, which is owned by Petroleum Sport and Culture (PSCC), formed a club last year as a marketing move.
"We consider table tennis a worthwhile form of advertising. To ensure the sport prospers, we intend to set up an academy in Ha Noi next year," said team coach Truong Thoi Nhiem, who is also vice manager of PSCC.
"The company will profit from organising tournaments in Viet Nam, of which part of the revenue will go to paying the players and for training abroad," Nhiem said.
Vu Manh Cuong, T&T team's coach, said finding a sponsor helped revive his coaching career.
"I retired from playing six years ago and began to coach T&T. It's my dream and I have everything I want here. The team have a junior training system, which is a great boon," Cuong said.
"Of course, good pay and better working conditions are also nice."
The Golden Paddle event, run by the federation for the last 23 years, is now an official International Table Tennis Federation event. — VNS