How Table Tennis has continued to grow in Nigeria under one man’s watch.

The racquet sport is making huge strides in the country.

Nigeria table tennis team

While football takes the largest chunk of attention on sports in Nigeria, there are some others that getting attention in their own right and making a good name for the country.

And it’s table tennis.

The recently-concluded summer Olympics in Tokyo had Funke Oshonaike who was appearing at her seventh event, a record for most table tennis appearances at the summer games. There was also Africa’s biggest player in Aruna Quadri, making another appearance to the delight of table tennis enthusiasts in the country and beyond.

All these efforts were no mean feat as momentum has been building with a couple of table tennis players doing exceptionally well locally, continentally and internationally.

One just has to look back at Quadri and Oshonaike’s efforts at the 2017 ITTF/Africa Senior Cup in Agadir, Morocco where they won gold and silver in the men and women’s categories respectively. Quadri also took gold at the ITTF Polish Open Challenge in Warsaw. It culminated in him winning the 2017 Nigerian Sportsman of the Year by the Nigerian Sports Awards, where he saw off football superstar Ahmed Musa and Basketball player Ike Diogu. Quadri would go on to reclaim the same award in 2018.

In that same year at the Soglo International Invitational Tournament in Cotonou, Benin, the quartet of Nurudeen Hassan, Rashidat Ogundele, Jamiu Ayanwale and Nimota Aregbesola, all won gold.

At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, two silver medals were won, while at the 3rd edition of the Africa Youth Games in Algiers, Nigeria picked up a silver and bronze medal, a sign of youth development after 2 gold and 3 bronze medals were bagged at the ITTF World Junior & Cadet Circuit and 2017 Egypt Junior Open. Also in 2018, 2 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze medals were won at the ITTF-Africa Senior Championships Port Louis, Mauritius.

2019 was an incredible year for para-table tennis with a combined 11 medals (6 Gold, 2 Silver, 3 bronze) won at the African Para Table Tennis Championship in Egypt. At the ITTF Africa Para Championships also in Egypt it was 12 medals (7 Gold, 3 Silver, 2 Bronze) in the bag. At the 12th African games held in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, 2 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze medals came in for Nigeria.

In the most recent outing, one bronze medal was won at the 2020 Paralympic Games held in Tokyo.

All these efforts have come under the leadership of one man in Ishaku Tikon who is an engineer by profession and was the former president of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation between 2017 until his tenure ended in May 2021.

Despite these many achievements, the Taraba State native – who is standing for re-election, is keen to do more that will position Nigerian table tennis in Africa and the world.

“One of my plans if re-elected is to come up with strategies that will key into us moving table tennis in the world,” Tikon said.

“Table tennis being done differently today, even in the African region you have wonderful players that are coming up on daily basis. So, we are going to develop strategies and modules on how we will continue to dominate in Africa.”

Indeed, Nigeria is already positioning itself in the world with Quadri climbing into the top 15 of the latest ITTF world rankings, the first Nigerian and African to hold such a feat. It’s things like these that is making Tikon not to relent in pushing towards developing table tennis in Nigeria.

“Today, we have our own [Quadri] coming first in history in the region, falling into the first 15 is fantastic, its unprecedented and it’s all attributed to hard work of the athletes themselves and we [administrators] also involved.,” Tikon continued.

“So, it’s going to be a continuous process, increasing on what we have done so far, developing also some things different from what we have been doing to get to where we are. To meet up with the coming challenge of the world, we are properly grilled.”

Judging by the strong track record table tennis has achieved under Tikon, he certainly looks good for re-election. He promises to organize more zonal and regional table tennis championships in a bid to discover more young and talented players. He also wants to continue the hosting of national competitions as well as grassroot development programmes.

It is clear that table tennis has immense potential and prospects evidenced by Quadri, Oshonaike and the emerging talents. If Tikon can keep to his promises as guardian of the sport, then surely more glory days are ahead which will be to the benefit of making the racquet game even more popular and productive.

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Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics and health. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News and Vanguard News. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions. Follow him on Twitter: @kfayiga

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