President, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Wahid Oshodi believes that with more support from the National Sports Commission (NSC) coupled with the efforts being made by the federation, more stars like 2014 ITTF Star Player, Aruna Quadri can be groomed to become world beaters. Excerpts
What is your assessment of 2015?
I think 2015 for table tennis was quite good in terms of what the Federation and players achieved taking into consideration the financial constraints that we faced. The lack of funding generally meant we could not attend some important events like the African juniors in Mauritius and the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in India. But overall Taking into consideration our performances at the events we attended we did quite well and we continue to move in the right direction.
What are the objectives in 2016?
I think our focus in 2016 as in 2015 is that we must continue to develop the junior and cadet players. We must give our most talented young players the right atmosphere for them to grow. This of course means giving them the best coaching and affording them the opportunity to play in tournaments internationally so we can assess how well they are doing against the best young players in the world. We have done quite well in this regard in the last two years but there are a lot more gifted players all over the country and we must do our best to discover and harness them. We hope to be able to create new tournaments outside Lagos and Abuja. If we can find the right partnerships with the private sector this will assist greatly in boosting the spread of the game all over the country. It is also important to get the best of our senior players playing on the world tour and assist them to find the funding to ensure that they can train in the best academies in Europe and Asia with the top players in the world. We must continue to expose our coaches alongside the players. This is an area that is very critical. We must develop our Nigerian coaches but they must also be willing to accept that they need the knowledge. The sport of table tennis is one that is developing so quickly. The styles have moved on from what we know in Nigeria. It is faster and more physically demanding. Our coaches need to take this on board.
What has been the challenge of table tennis?
Lack of funding is the major problem we have. We have designed programmes for our junior and senior players but we just can’t find enough money to back up our plans. Where we can’t even get funding to attend many continental events we will naturally start to lag behind other countries. It is very difficult to operate in this conditions and gives one a lot to think about with regards to the way other sports bar football are being funded in this country. It is amusing when the sports loving public ask questions about how well we are doing. The question really should be how well are we being equipped to do well. I must continuously thank some of our board members and our friends in table tennis who personally support the players to buy equipment and attend tournaments. Without them table tennis would be dead in Nigeria. The Lagos State Government has also been quite supportive in terms of putting their infrastructure at our disposal and it is support like this that we need. We need good consistent funding to achieve our goals.
This is Olympic year and what is going to be the preparation of the team for Brazil?
As we speak now two players (Aruna Quadri and Funke Oshonaike) have qualified for the Olympics and we expect Segun Toriola and Edem Offiong to qualify at the Qualifying tournament in Sudan. Only two male and two female players can qualify from each country. The players working with their Coaches have already sent in their proposed programmes but it will come down to money. The 2016 Olympic table tennis tournament is structured in such a way that we realistically can aspire for a medal because the gap between players like Aruna, Segun and the best Chinese players is quite marginal. Playing well on your day with the right preparation I am confident that we can beat anybody in a straight knockout competition. You have to remember that Aruna was the world player of the year in 2014. He has a big reputation and he is one of the strongest players in the world as we speak. With the right preparation which really means support from the NSC and Ministry of Sports we can do well. The Schlaeger academy (the foremost table tennis academy in the world) in Austria has offered us their facilities including Coaching at a heavily subsidised rate to assist our players and Coaches both at the senior and junior levels. This kind of training programme is what makes the difference between champions and also rans. I hope we will be able to fund it.
There seems to be falling standard of female players and what is the plan of NTTF to address this?
This is a problem that has been around for a long while. We have not been replacing our top players and not enough female players are coming through. Currently our junior and cadet programme is designed for boys and girls. I am sure in a few years we will see the fruits of this programme. If you take out our top eight to ten female players, the standard falls short of what we require for players to represent the country. Our strongholds for female table tennis are mainly Cross Rivers Lagos Oyo and Ogun. We need them to assist the federation by helping us discover more raw talents that we can then groom. But the truth is that these states themselves need more support in terms of equipment and funding. It is a problem but the Federation is doing its best to address it. Furthermore it was pleasant to see our number one player Edem Offiong returning to magnificent form at the All African Games alongside the old war horse Funke Oshonaike. They serve as inspiration to the younger ones coming. We also need to work with someone like Funke and other older players who have achieved so much in ensuring that they impart their knowledge to the younger ones coming up. Funke is going for her sixth Olympics and that is such sterling effort which we hope we can use to galvanize and courage the younger ones. We also need to encourage people like Richard Edem our top female Coach from Cross Rivers state to continue to produce the much needed talent. People like this also need to be encouraged by the Federal Government when granting national honors and awards. These coaches and players who work hard at the grassroots and discover players who have brought honour to our country over and over again are the people who truly deserve these awards. When the National sports Commission and Mjnistry of Sports are forwarding names it would be good if they remember that there are other sports apart from football. These other sports are the ones that contribute to Nigeria’s success at major continental and world multi medal sporting events. It really is a sad commentary that so many great sportsmen and women have been overlooked in the award of Honours
What are the major tournaments in 2016?
Well for us the major tournaments are the AFRICA Top 16 which serves as Africa’s qualifier for the World Cup and Olympic Qualifiers in February in Sudan. The World team Championships in Malaysia in February will take on greater importance this year because the highest ranked African team would likely take Africa’s only slot in the Olympic team event. We are currently neck and neck with Egypt so we need to play very well there. Of course the 4th edition of the Lagos (Nigeria) International Open holds in May before the players go into their final phase of training for the Olympics. There is also the African Championships later in the year. Also in line with our focus we intend to host the National Senior Junior and Cadet Championship at the end of the first quarter of the year so the best players in this tournaments can earn slots in the Lagos International Open. There are also quite a number of junior and cadet tournaments in Africa and the Middle East which I feel we must take our best young players to so we can further their development. It is a busy year. On the home front we have to find the funds to continue with our much needed developmental programmes and the National League. It is through this events that we can find the talent that our sport needs. We must also find a way to support the states in the areas of development especially at the school level.