Psychological Health Consultants
Call Us: +234 8093448077
23rd Jun 2023 | by: admin

Taiwo Mati – a rising Nigerian star

An evening of International Table Tennis in Lagos, and thoughts on Nigerian Sports
By Femi Olugbile

For those who love table tennis, watching a top-class game can be an exhilarating experience.
As you enter the indoor sports hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, for the final event of the World Table Tennis Contender competition, you can feel the excitement in the air. There are players here from twenty-six countries, including China and Germany.
It has the atmosphere of a mini-World Championship and is the largest international event in the game to be hosted in Nigeria for several decades. Much of the glory for that belongs to Wahid Enitan Oshodi, who is a Vice President of the International Table Tennis Federation. He has been changing the fortunes and visibility of the game on the African continent and putting Nigeria back on the world map. He has just come from hosting a World Championship in Durban, South Africa.
The atmosphere in the hall brings back memories of Chiba, Japan, and your first attendance at a World Championship event, as a member of the ITTF Sports Science Committee, in 1991. It was in the heyday of Ichiro Ogimura, the Japanese businessman and former World Champion who became President of the International Federation, and who was determined to give the whole world an unforgettable treat on his turf. North and South Korea were presenting a unified Korean team for the first time ever there, and the Nigerian participation was proudly headlined by the unforgettable maestro Atanda Musa, who was ranked in the top forty in the world. The Japanese, who previously held sway, were beginning to lose their grip at the top of the world game, and the Europeans, led by the Swedish genius Jan Ove Waldner and his compatriots, were ruling the roost. The Chinese, who were soon to take over the game in its totality, were just beginning to stir to life.
Sitting with Oshodi in Surulere, you commend his energy and derring-do for taking on the burden of bringing such international attention and participation to the evolving megacity and excruciatingly challenging city of Lagos. The players have been comfortably quartered at Eko Hotel for the week, and transported in nice airconditioned buses, and the prize money is respectable – $75,000, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Baba Ijebu the betting magnate, as well as a panoply of private sector sponsors.
But electricity could not be guaranteed, so anyone running an international competition that is being streamed live on DSTV and on YouTube all over the world would have to make their own power. Teslim Balogun Stadium belongs to Lagos State and was for a time functionally and aesthetically probably the best sporting venue in the nation. In 2012, it was done up by the government of Babatunde Fashola to host the 2012 National Sports Festival, ‘EKO 2012’. Fashola had gone for broke, putting the football pitch and the various indoor and outdoor facilities in world class shape, procuring state of the art equipment, and building a Sports Science and Medicine unit led by a specialist Sports Surgeon who was mandated not just to treat injuries, but to build a biological database of Lagos youths identified to have sporting talent. This was for the purpose of monitoring and enhancing their physical and sporting development over several years as their careers blossomed. Much of this thinking and structure has since gone into abeyance. Many of the chairs in the stands have been destroyed. Toilets fell into disuse, and fittings had to be changed to make the conveniences usable for this tournament. A medium-sized generator had been rented to provide power, as the huge in-house generators would have consumed humongous amounts of diesel.
When the power trips off for a few minutes during the competition, the panic you see in Oshodi reminds you of an incident in your earlier life running a Teaching Hospital when some careless security man shut down the theatre generator during a session of Open Heart surgery. Knowing the patient on the operating table would be dead in less than five minutes, you felt your heart race furiously as you sprang into a sprint to locate the problem. The one minute it took to restore the power had felt like an eternity of horror.
The events of this final day progress smoothly, reaching a climax in the Men’s Singles Final. This last match features Chinese Zhou Qihao, who is ranked Number 24 in the world, playing against former World Champion, the German Dima Ovtcharov.
The thought crosses your mind, as you watch, that the ascendancy of a new Nigerian President who once led the Lagos Dream may be a chance to reinvent Sports development in Nigeria, which is in a deplorable state. A Marshall Plan, nothing less, is needed. It would require a firm handshake with the private sector, and the use of private sector thinking in the management of Sports, to make the business and practice of Sports profitable and sustainable. Nigerian youths are achieving fantastic heights using the structures and resources of other countries – in Athletics, in Football, in the NBA, even in Table Tennis. The reality is that they have to emigrate to make good. The bleeding needs to stop. Nigeria must identify its talents early, nurture them to stardom, and give them a life.
The German finalist Ovtcharov has a peculiar crouching service stance, eyeing his opponent balefully across the table like a predator about to pounce. The Lagos crowd have adopted him as their own because of his devil-may-care attacking play, which reminds them of their own champion, Aruna Quadri. Quadri is regrettably absent, playing for his Russian professional club. The Chinese Zhou Qihao is more controlled and less flamboyant.
Aruna, ranked Number 11 in the world, beat Zhou 3-0 in a competition in Doha last year, and perhaps might have beaten him again in Lagos, if he had been present.
Against the predictions of Lagos fans, it is Zhou who prevails over the German, after changing the pace of the game and spraying killer shots from impossible angles on the table.
Zhou is the new Men’s Singles Champion. The Lagos crowd applaud him gamely.
The evening ends on a rousing note.
You shake hands with a sweating, much relieved Wahid Oshodi as you exit.
Your parting hope is that the new Nigerian President would make the Marshall plan for Nigerian Sports happen, leveraging on the energies, creativity, and private sector savvy of people like Oshodi to grow and nurture Sports, and take Nigeria to its rightful height in the World.

About the Author: admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.