2016 has been an eventful year for table tennis in Nigeria particularly with the impact of Nigeria at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, the President, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Wahid Oshodi, believes with more funding and commitment of the players, Nigeria has the wherewithal to become the lone voice for table tennis in Africa.
Plans for 2017?
More grassroots tournaments workshops and coaching clinics to enable us discover more players all over the country. Enabling our coaches with the opportunity to further develop their knowledge so they can better harness the skills of our young players and finding the resources to expose our best players to life on the professional tour at both junior and senior level. Funding is key to all this. We start the year with five of our players taking part in the Hungary Open the first pro tour of the event of the year. It is difficult financially but we continue to try.
On the plans to honours for table tennis stars like Atanda Musa, Yomi Bankole, Olawunmi Majekodunmi?
I think this is an area where the Federal Ministry of Sports should be looking to take the lead. They are great athletes across different sports who have served this country conscientiously and deserve national honours. We in the Federation will continue to play our part by honouring them during our tournaments, naming our awards after them to inspire the young players and ensuring that their contributions are always remembered.
Gains and challenges as NTTF boss?
I don’t want to start listing the gains but my joy and happiness comes out from the fact that we have been able to raise the profile of the sport and that we can boast of world class players. We intend to do more but this also depends of the availability of funds. In our own way we have been engaging our players (senior and junior) with some of them playing at international levels. Funding is a major challenge because apart from organising tournaments at local level, these players must also be exposed internationally and that is why the fund is very vital. The most important gain I believe is that we are back at the top table of all aspects of world table tennis in terms of players, umpires and administrators.
Aruna Quadri’s rising profile globally?
Aruna Quadri is a product of hardwork and dedication because we cannot start saying that investing in him alone is what has been paying off but his own involvement and dedication to the sport made it possible for him to get to where he is today. We have a lot of players with the quality of Aruna Quadri in the country and they just need to instill ore hard work and dedication. They should take a cue from the likes of Aruna, Segun Toriola and Funke Oshonaike, whom I believe have become great examples to others with their commitment to the sport. Aruna Quadri has more than justified whatever investments myself and a few others have made over the years. He is a source of great pride and joy to us.
Every Nigerian player is a threat to any team because they have distinct skills that give them edge over others. Their never-say-die spirit coupled with all other talents, they are considered as major players in the game. Aruna is adored all over the world not only because of his great skills but also because of his humility and willingness to always showcase the best in our sport. He is a respected player worldwide.
On contribution of Segun Toriola and Olufunke Oshonaike?
Moving to coaching is a player’s personal decision. But already we are encouraging our top senior players to give back to the game by holding clinics for the junior players where they can impart their vast knowledge and latest techniques to the younger players. We have done this with Toriola a couple of times in the last year and Funke Oshonaike is set to hold one in the first quarter of 2017. In this way we can ensure that they assist our coaches in bringing up the next generation of players.
Winning Olympic medal in Table Tennis?
We just need to continue to work hard and expose our players to the latest techniques at a much younger age. We need to find the funding to take the players on the junior and senior pro tours where they can test themselves against the best in the world. The competition is very fierce at the top with the powerful Asian and European teams who invest a lot of money and give their players the right training and exposure very early in their careers.
On the performance of Nigeria at 2016 World Junior Championships?
Overall it was a relatively good performance in the circumstances. It was the first international tournament for many of the players which meant they were quite nervous and the loss of the team captain who could not make it to the tournament made it a bit more difficult especially for the girls team. But all in all it was quite a useful test and the experience gained will assist in fast tracking the development of this young talented boys and girls.
Also, we need to work hard coupled with discipline and progressive coaching. You can always see that from the best teams here. Japan for example with 10 coaches and other support staff numbering over 30 just to ensure that the players lack nothing We need to organise more junior tournaments and training camps across the country. We need to give chances to players all over the country. The large numbers of young players we have discovered need to get the much needed exposure. That means we need to find the funding to conduct training camps and the best of them need to go on the ITTF Junior Circuit where they can consistently play against the best young talent in the world and develop their game.
Competing favourable against European and Asian teams?
We need to find the funding to give the players the opportunity for better coaching. They need to attend tournaments. We need more sponsors to come onboard and assist in setting up more tournaments where we can get these children to showcase their talent. We must continue to appeal to the private sector and individuals to help us in tackling the challenge in sports. We all know the economic situation in the country but sports plays such a critical role in developing the youth, creation of job and tourism opportunities, we must not relent in finding ways to find the needed funds.