The Chinese national table tennis head coach has banned his squad from “falling in love” before the Olympics later this year.

The announcement comes after coach Cai Zhenhua kicked out the players – three women and a man – because he said the romances were affecting their performance and training, according to the South China Morning Post.

Cai told the team: “This year is an Olympic year. … athletes you have to make every sacrifice that is required for your team.”

Cai told the remaining players that the expulsions would give other players a chance to correct their behaviour, saying that they were not the only players with a “problem with falling in love”, the report said.

Two of the dismissed players were Bai Ying, 19, girlfriend of China’s world number one player Ma Lin, and Fan Ying, 17, the world number 20 and girlfriend of world number three Wang Hao, the Post said.

The other two were Hou Yingchao, 21, and his girlfriend Li Nan, 21, whom the newspaper described as the world number 10 and widely tipped as a medal contender.