Although Nigerian Squash players may be doing well in international competitions, their global ratings show that much needs to be done for them to actually meet and even surpass the standard of their counterparts from other countries.
But this can only be achieved if the sports authorities and corporate organisations can jointly promote the sport by ensuring adequate exposure for the players.
It is not in doubt that the country has an array of talents and the Nigeria Squash Federation (NSF) has been doing its best to discover and groom them amid challenges, including inadequate funding, lack of equipment and sponsorships.
Fans of the sport have hinged its development on exposure of athletes to competitions that will hone their skills, a fact the federation had admitted but blamed on lack of adequate funding and other logistics for the training and exposure of the athletes.
The situation which over the years had militated against the growth of the game worsened as the federation failed to organise any local competition or participate in international ones in 2014.
This further diminished efforts to expose the players to Grade A international competitions.
However, the Professional Squash Players Association of Nigeria (PSPAN), organised monthly competitions in clubs in Lagos State for its members to keep fit.
It is also germane to say that the Lagos State Government organised the “Lagos Interntional Squash Classics’’ in which Nigeria, England, India, Pakistan, Germany and Egypt took part in.
The competition, the only international meet where Nigerian players participated in, was won byAdrian Grant of England in the men’s category, while El-Sheba Torky of Egypt claimed the womens’ title.
The U-19 category for local players where two brothers compete, Onaopemipo Adegoke, 13, defeated his older brother, Temiloluwa,17, to clinch the title.
Apart from these two competitions, there was lull in activities in the federation, leaving the efforts to discover and groom players at a stand still as well as not giving the professionals the necessary exposure at international meets that would have improved their international classifications.
In assessing Nigerian players’ performance at the international classics, a Professional Squash Association (PSA) player from Egypt, who featured at the competition, Omar Abdel-Meguid, says the Nigerians were better than he expected.
Abdel-Meguid, ranked 25th in the world, told reporters at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, where the tournment was held, that with more exposure, the players could be of world-class standard.
“They are better than I thought; so, that’s a good thing. They need to get out of Nigeria to actually get better; I think that’s all they need.
“They have the potential; physically, they are strong, but they just need some guts; that’s all they need,’’ Meguid said.
Sharing a similar opinion, the Lagos State Commissioner for Sports, Wahid Enitan-Oshodi, attributed the low performance of Nigerian players at the classics to lack of exposure.
Enitan-Oshodi says the country’s sport’s authorities need to ensure that Nigerian players were familiar with many styles of play in modern courts and with modern equipment.
It could be recalled that all Nigerian players at the tournament did not make it beyond the quarter-finals stage. They, however, lost to foreign PSA players.
The commissioner adds that “it just goes to show that we need to improve on our level of exposure. We need to get our players familiar with all styles of play with modern tools.
“The Nigerian players, I have seen playing are not too different from their foreign counterparts.
“The only thing missing is exposure which we have to ensure that they get’’.
According to newsmen, many of the NSF players have never played in an all glass court which is the standard in any international tournament.
The players told reporters that squash administrators should ensure that the federation groomed players to get accustomed to such facilities.
Some of the players say that the new all glass court installed by the Lagos State Government for the competition had such light fittings that affected their game.
The new court provided by the Lagos State for the classic is the first all glass court in Nigeria.
In assessing the current state of the sport, the NSF President, Adamu Erena, says that apart from football that has gained so much popularity, other lesser sports like squash have had to strive to make their mark amid the paucity of funds to execute their programmes.
He notes that as 2014 ends, most programmes that the federation set out to accomplish were abruptly cancelled due to logistics reasons.
Erena says the federation had learnt from its shortcomings in the outgone year and will as such work to move the sport forward in 2015.
“We understand that we have not been able to meet the needs of our players which are basically to organise regular and periodic competitions for them.
“So many issues such as insecurity in some parts of the country and lack of viable sponsors affected us. Next year, we will re-strategise and we will get the much needed result,’’ Erena said.
One of the players, Dunni Okikiola, says participating in the classics was her first time of playing in an all-glass court.
‘This is my first experience playing in an all round glass court which is unlike the usual wall type we are trained with.
“Well, the whole thing looks strange to me, the lightings disturbed my eyes and I could not see well. So I ended up not hitting at my target.’’
Okikiola, who played in the women’s category adds that her opponent was more experienced and exposed to modern facilities and had the opportunity to travel outside Nigeria for international meets.
Another player, Lola Ajayi, who played for Lagos State and the Nigeria Police Force, says it was her first time to play in the tournament.
“Notwithstanding that this is my first time of playing in the classics, I was in control of the game and defeated my opponent from Pakistan.
“We have paid the prize for lack of exposure, but getting the players exposed, does not come cheap, it requires intervention from individauls and cooperate sponsors.’’
For Seun Peters, President of PSPAN, says the association had lined up several international tournaments for its members in 2015.
PSPAN was formed in 2012 by players to organise regular and periodic tournaments for members to sharpen their skills.
“Well, by next year, we are going to expose our players to international tournaments. This is because if they keep playing among themselves for too long, they will be static.
“Once they play four tournaments in Nigeria, they should play two abroad. So, that is what we are trying to do,’’ Peters said.
With 2015 here with us, squash enthusiasts will be looking out for a level of development in squash that can lead Nigerian players to be among the first 50 from the 144th where Tunde Ajagbe, the country’s number one is currently.
But this is attainable if all hands will be on deck and guarantee participation in more international engagements.
Also the federation needs to be proactive in securing sponsors for its local and international activities in 2015 and beyond.

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