Nigerian Table Tennis Is Dying


For many years, Nigeria as a country has produced many table-tennis players, but same cannot be said of today, maybe because football has taken the shine off the ping pong sport.

Great players such as Yomi Bankole; Atanda Musa; Segun Toriola; Funke Oshonaike, Aruna Quadri and other ping-pongers rose to prominence,  but that has since changed as the country is no longer a force to reckon with in the racquet sport.

The number of Nigerian table-tennis players making waves outside the shores of the country are diminishing by the day, compared to the number of their counterparts playing football outside the country.

This clearly shows that table-tennis is gradually dying in the country.

Gone are the days, when table-tennis players in the country are kept busy throughout the year with competitions, which were used to test Nigerian stars. But it is now a thing of the past because the number of competitions in the country cannot be quantified with the number of football competitions held on an annual basis in the country.

The reason for the decline in the racquet game is not farfetched; there are no tournaments or training programme to nurture the youngsters who have interest in the sport.

However, kudos must be given to Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas for sustaining the most vibrant and competitive table tennis competition in the country; the Asoju Oba Table-Tennis Championship which is still waxing strong after 43 years.

For 43 years and still counting, the Asoju Oba tourney has not only created a platform for table-tennis players to test their skills, but it has produced stars who have represent the country in international competitions.

Apart from the tourney, there is no other competition in the country to keep the players busy. Another reason for the downtrend of the game is the fact that there are no good facilities for budding talents to hone their skills.

A visit to the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos and other sporting venues in the country would give a clearer picture of the rot in the sport.

The sight of table-tennis players training at the Lock-up Hall of the National Stadium, Lagos leaves much to be desired because they train in darkness.

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In some cases, they have to contribute money to buy Premium Motor Spirit, PMS to power the generating set to illuminate the Sports Hall before they could train, which ordinarily should not be the case.

It is the duty of the National Sports Commission, NSC and the Nigeria Table-Tennis Federation, NTTF to provide an enabling environment for athletes to train, but the case of table-tennis is terrible.

One of the factors militating against the development of the sport is the poor number of table-tennis clubs in the country. A Nigerian ping-ponger based in Portugal, who does not want his name in print, blamed the NTTF for the few number of clubs in the country.

He opined that since there are few table-tennis clubs in the country, there is no way the country can have a table-tennis club. He urged concerned authorities to go the extra mile by organising a competitive table-tennis league, where budding talents can exhibit their skills  so that they can represent the country in international competitions.

He further posited that the failure of Nigeria’s contingent at the last Olympic Games was the lapses of the NTTF and the NSC to unearth budding talents. “Table-tennis is a game that can fetch the country a lot of money if well managed. In Portugal, where I play, people come out in large numbers to watch the league but in Nigeria there is no league, the NTTF and NSC must be up and doing if Nigeria must return to the zenith of table-tennis in the world again.

Ikemefuna Ezim, another table-tennis player told P.M.News at the National Stadium that they toil day and night training, yet there are no competitions to test their strength. He frowned at the situation where foreign-based players are always selected to represent the country in international competitions.

He further castigated the concerned authorities for not doing enough to replace ageing ping-pongers in the country saying; “Look at the way our representatives were disgraced in London. Those who represent the country are old, my fear is that the country has not looked inwards, there are lots of good table-tennis players in the country, but they are not always given an opportunity to represent the country”.

The National Sports Festival tagged ‘Eko 2012’ slated for Lagos next month should be an avenue for the NSC and the NTTF to discover budding talents and nurture them to greatness.

Will Nigeria return to the crest of table-tennis in the world? Only time will tell?

—Adebobola  Alawode & Malik Adewale

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