China table tennis boss says Olympic Covid rules 'extremely difficult'

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China's table tennis chief Liu Guoliang (R) is seen here with top player Zhang Jike at the Rio 2016 Olympics
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China's table tennis chief has bemoaned Covid-19 safety rules at the Tokyo Olympics, saying they are making life "extremely difficult" as his team looks to sweep the golds once again.

China have won 28 of the 32 table tennis titles awarded at the Olympics, dominating a sport in a way that has rarely been matched.

But the lead-up to the pandemic-delayed Games has thrown up several challenges, from inconsistent form among China's top players to new rules to stop the coronavirus spreading.

"We didn't expect some epidemic rules like not wiping the game table with your hand, or blowing (on the ball)," Chinese Table Tennis Association president Liu Guoliang told state broadcaster CCTV.

"The preparation for this Olympic Games is actually extremely difficult," he added, in an interview aired Tuesday.

It is the second Covid gripe this week from China's Olympic team after sailing competitors complained of poor pandemic prevention measures at their hotel.

The Chinese sailing team said competitors were forced to mix with other guests at their hotel.

The table tennis association clip has circulated widely, attracting 140 million views on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo as of Wednesday.

"If you can't beat us, so be it. Why look for so many reasons including the pandemic?" one user wrote.

In the interview, Liu -- himself a former world and Olympic champion -- said the team is now helping athletes "resist pressure and interference" at the Olympics.

"The most difficult competitions for the athletes are the first two rounds -- during such elimination rounds and 'life-and-death battles'," he added.

China's six-member squad this year includes reigning Olympic champion Ma Long and world number one Fan Zhendong in the men's singles, while world champion Liu Shiwen will play the mixed doubles and women's team events.

Aside from China, the only other countries to win Olympic table tennis titles are South Korea (three times) and Sweden (once).

On Wednesday China said it is taking 777 athletes and staff to Japan -- its largest contingent to an overseas Games.

The youngest athlete is diver 14-year-old Quan Hongchan,and the oldest is 52-year-old equestrian Li Zhenqiang, state media reported.

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