While football, the most adored sport in Nigeria, brought mostly tears to its lovers in 2014—especially at the senior level—table tennis went ahead to win more hearts.
The Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) successfully engaged its players in 19 local and international competitions within the year.
The federation hosted the Lagos Open and the 2014 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) African Top 16— which had 12 countries in attendance— between June 23 and June 28.
Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri won the top 16 and that qualified him to represent Africa at the table tennis World Cup in Germany between Oct. 22 and Oct. 26.
Quadri’s performance at the World Cup improved his ranking from 73 to 30 in the World. Still riding high, the U.S. named him the second best player at the 2014 North American Table Tennis Team Championship.
Quadri was also nominated in the male table tennis star team of the year for the 2nd ITTF Star Awards, alongside the world number one, China’s Xu Xin and his compatriot, Fan Zhendong, who is the 2014 Youth Olympic Games gold medalist.
Aside being nominated in the male-star category, Quadri’s got a crucial point against Olympic and World Champion, China’s Jan Zhike at the World Cup, and was also picked in the star-point of the year category.
The award ceremony is expected to hold in Dubai on Jan. 7, 2015, at the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
At the Commonwealth Games, Nigeria’s men’s team won a bronze medal in the team event, where Onaolapo Ojo played the deciding match.
The country was represented by Segun Toriola, Aruna Quadri, Onaolapo Ojo, Jide Ogidiolu and Bode Abiodun.
Other international competitions where they featured included the ITTF World tour in Kuwait and Qatar, German and Spanish open, ITTF/ATTF Africa Junior/Cadet Championships in Tripoli, Libya.
The rest were the ITTF World team Championships, Tokyo, Japan; the African Youth Games, Gaborone, Botswana; and the Belgian Open.
Quadri said the World Cup was his second appearance, after his first in 2009 in Moscow, Russia.
He promised to make the country proud at all times, whenever in the national colours.
The President of the NTTF, Wahid Enitan-Oshodi, said he had so much confidence in the set of players in the federation and called on government and the private sector to support the players towards attending more tournaments.
He said that the major setback for the sport in the country was the inability of players to attend enough competitions.
“Poor funding is the greatest challenge to the federation; we have the talents, but money is what we need to execute all the programmes usually lined up annually.
“I want to thank Babatunde Raji Fashola— the governor of Lagos State— for his relentless effort at helping the federation when called upon,’’ said Enitan-Oshodi, who doubles as the commissioner for sports, Lagos State.
Anderson Bankole, NTTF technical director, promised that the federation would not relent in its effort at sustaining the level attained, and achieve more, in the coming years.
Bankole, who is an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), said the entire board would work towards the common interest of the federation — to showcase Nigerian players as world beaters.
“Projecting the players is our utmost aim and the players themselves are showing discipline and commitment toward the sport; so, it has been easy managing them.
“We fared well in the outgoing year and I am optimistic that 2015 will be more fulfilling, but we need assistance because we do not have the means to do it all alone,’’ he said.
Nosiru Bello, NTTF head coach, said that the various tournaments in which the players participated in 2014 had further improved and strengthened their skills.
He said that at every competition, he noticed improvements in the athletes and that gladdened his heart because it showed that the competitions had not been in vain.
“The players improved tremendously in the outgoing year and that can only be attributed to regular tournaments being facilitated by the federation,’’ he said.
Onaolapo Ojo, an Italy-based player, said that his regular participation in competitions paved the way for him to secure a club in Italy.
He said that if he wasn’t doing well he couldn’t have secured a place in the Macorzzi club in Caglian, Italy.
“The current board has really tried for us since coming on board and I am grateful for all their collective efforts.
“I am looking forward to 2015 and seeing us record more successes. Members of the board are dedicated people; they are goal getters,’’ he said.
Kazeem Makanjuola, a player said that 2014 had been the best year so far for him since he started playing.
He said that he participated in many competitions and some training tours which had helped him to get better.
“In 2014 I got better as a player, my backhand is now fantastic and I am pleased with the outgoing year.
“I owe it all to God and the NTTF for making me a better player,’’ he said.
Banji Oladapo, an Executive Vice-President of the African Table Tennis Federation (ATTF), observed that Nigeria performed better in the outgoing year than in 2013 because its president, Enitan-Oshodi, showed an uncommon commitment toward the sport.
“With his commitment, the country looks good enough to bounce back into international reckoning”.
Sports pundits say a gold medal, for instance, at the Olympics, is Golden, whether it is won by a lone jumper or a 23-man football team.
It is expected that Nigeria will further develop other sports, including table tennis, and stop treating football as if it is the only sport in Nigeria.