11th September, 2012
When you see them smiling, you may not know how much pain they go through. But when you see them training, you ask what they want to do and the response is ‘we want wheelchair tennis action’.
Over the years, people with disability in Nigeria have been neglected probably because they don’t have ‘god fathers’.
To those who think these physically challenged athletes do not have traces of greatness looming around them, the exploits of two wheelchair tennis players who featured at the just concluded 2012 London Paralympic Games proved that they can shine someday if they are encouraged. The players are making their mark on the continent.
Top players such as Wasiu Yusuf, Alex Adewale and many others thought the hope was lost, but the New Era Wheelchair Tennis tourney, sponsored by the former First lady of Lagos State, Chief (Mrs.) Oluremi Tinubu, brought a lease of life to them.
Although, the joy appears to be fading away once again, as the players have gone back into their private homes since the competition was ‘rested’ two years ago. The players are eager to play and are appealing to the organisers to come to their rescue.
“Everybody is rusty and there is no interest again compared to what was obtainable when the tournament was held regularly. We would have improved had the tourney continued, but there’s little or nothing we can do now.
“For instance, when we had the championship, Wasiu Yusuf played at the Olympic qualifiers, where he qualified for the Beijing Olympics for the first time in 2008. It’s part of the development we had in the sport but all that is in the past now.
“I want to appeal to our mother, Mrs. Tinubu to continue with the sponsorship of this tournament so that we can have great champions from Nigeria again,” said a wheelchair tennis player, Mohammed Audu.
The players said they are hurt by dearth of tournaments, as the sport is the only tool which can give them livelihood.
One of their coaches, Kayode Savage was not happy about the situation of the sport in the country. He said the stoppage of New Era Wheelchair Tennis Championship by the New Era Foundation has affected his players.
“Everybody has stopped training because there is no tournament. The players said they couldn’t just keep on training without playing any major tourney. I think they are right. I just want to appeal to the sponsors and other corporate bodies to come to our aid because we don’t want wheelchair tennis to die in Nigeria.”
Training so hard without a particular competition in mind can be frustrating for a player and the player may lose interest in whatever he is doing.
Apart from the dearth of tournaments, Nigeria lacks modern wheelchair tennis facilities and equipment for the players. These have been a major setback for them to compete favourably with their counterparts around the world.
Nigeria and Africa’s number one wheelchair tennis player, Yusuf is worried that if care is not taken, they would not meet up with rest of the world.
“The foreign players are not better than us. They only have modern training facilities more than we do here, that’s why they defeat us at international tournaments.”
Meanwhile, the vice-president of Confederation of African Tennis, CAT, has said that the federation is holding talks with the management of New Era Foundation, organisers of the New Era Wheelchair Tennis Championship, on the need to stage the tourney soon.