Kong Linghui, the former Olympic table tennis champion, has been suspended as head coach of the Chinese women's team after a luxury Singapore hotel filed a lawsuit against him, claiming gambling debts, the Chinese Table Tennis Association said on Tuesday.
Kong was ordered to immediately return home from the World Championships in Duesseldorf, Germany. An investigation by the association and other officials, according to a statement, described his behavior as a "serious violation" of disciplinary requirements for public officials.
A Singaporean hotel where Kong and his family and friends had stayed in February 2015 filed a lawsuit against him in a Hong Kong court, saying he signed a credit agreement to borrow 4.9 million yuan ($715,000) from the hotel's casino on Feb 19, but failed to pay back the debt in full, leaving over 2.24 million yuan unpaid, Hong Kong media reported on Monday.
After the case was exposed, Kong admitted he had borrowed the money in a post on Sina Weibo, a social media site, on Monday night and said he did not participate in gambling, but "only sat and observed".
"(After the exposure), I called my friends and relatives, and that's when I found out that there had been an unsettled debt dispute, involving me in a legal case," he said.
He said he has asked people who owe the debt to clarify what had happened and said he "feels deeply sorry for the negative influence from this issue brought to his team".
The Singaporean hotel declined to comment when contacted on Tuesday afternoon.
Kong made his name on the world stage between the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he won three Olympic medals - two golds and a silver. He retired in 2006 and became head coach of the women's national team in 2013.
After the statement from the table tennis association, the General Administration of Sport apologized on Tuesday for the "negative influence" caused by the issue and promised an investigation into the matter.
"The administration takes a zero-tolerance attitude toward any behavior that violates sporting ethics, disciplines or laws," the administration said in a statement.
The statement added that the administration will conduct a further investigation based on an initial probe by the association and mete out punishment in accordance with regulations and laws.
The Regulation on the Punishment of Civil Servants of Administration Organs, effective in 2007, stipulates that the civil servants and public officials who participate into gambling will receive a warning, demotion or get fired in accordance with the severity levels.