.Describes 2014 As His Best Ever –
National table tennis star Aruna Quadri, who is currently Africa’s Number One player and Number 30 in the World, told eyeonthesports.com he is ending 2014 on a high. Quadri capped his fantastic performance in the outgoing year with a unique display at the Men’s World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany, where he recorded upsets against highly rated players such as World’s Numbers 27 and 37, Japan’s Kenta Matsudaira and Russia’s Alexander Shibaev respectively. The Nigerian star went further to shock World’s Number 16, Hong Kong’s Tang Peng 4-2; 7-11, 11-9, 12-10, 11-8, 9-11 and 11-3 to set up a quarter final match against World and Olympics champion, Jike Zhang of China at the Men’s World Cup this Year. Quadri also won the 2014 Nigerian Sportsman of the Year Award, beating teammates; Segun Toriola and Ojo Onaolapo. Looking back, Quadri tells Tunde Oyedele how he plans to build on the feat he achieved this Year in 2015 in this revealing interview.
Q: Let’s start with your holiday, how did you celebrate Xmas as a Muslim and what does the season mean to you?
The Christmas celebrations went well despite the fact that I’m not a Christian, but my family celebrated Xmas with my boss who is a Christian and I must confess that it was an amazing one for us. Celebrating Christmas with the Christians is not a bad idea because I believe that we Muslims and our Christian brothers and sisters are worshiping one God. In another term, Christmas period is a time of relaxation period for me.
How will you describe your experience as a Nigerian player in 2014?
I will say 2014, which is few days to go is an eventful and my best year so far as a player. I give thanks to God for giving me the grace to excel in my career in the outgoing year. It’s a year my career witnessed the best since I have been playing table tennis, and I owe whatever I achieved to the people who have been supporting me financially. I also appreciate my fans all over the world for their support.
Nigerian table tennis fared well in 2014 compared to the country’s performance in the sport in the last four years. It is gratifying to note that Nigeria is ending the outgoing year as Africa’s Senior Men’s champion. Also, Nigeria emerged as champion of the Boys Youth Games early this year. Our top players also played to become the Men’s African representative at the World Cup. Nigeria also won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games this year.
.Quadri with his 2014 award. Photo: ITTF.com.
I can recall that we did not win any medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Our federation, the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation also succeeded in hosting two international tournaments this year; the African Singles Cup and GAC World Tour Tourney. For these great successes, 2014 is one of my best years ever in the history of table tennis in Nigeria. All these came despite the fact that we did not get any support from the National Sports Commission, NSC, I praised our federation President and his board members for a job well done.
What’s the high moment of your career this outgoing year?
The best moment of my career this year was in October when I defeated World Number 16 player from Hong Kong, Tang Peng. That’s the best victory ever recorded in my career.
Any regret as a national team player this year?
No regrets so far, as a matter of fact, I got the needed support from the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, NTTF, led by the President, Wahid Oshodi. But, he alone can’t do everything. However, I would have been happier if I got enough sponsors to play more tournaments, this could have improved my ranking status.
What are your plans as a player for 2015?
In 2015, I hope to feature in about 15 tournaments provided I get support from some companies. I’m hoping to get sponsors to enable me start 2015 on a bright note, and my plan is to do better than what I achieved in 2014. I have written proposals to different companies but still expecting their responses. I hope to get positive responses from the sponsors because things are going to be tough since we players hardly get support from the Sports Commission.
Having said that, I hope to retain my African title and surpass my World Cup record in the coming year by God’s Grace. In fact, I will be very happy if I can play to be ranked in the top 10 in 2015.
The African championship is coming up in January 2015, and I will be very happy if we can retain our lost glory against Egypt in all events, and I think it’s possible if we have sponsors to back our federation, that’s the only way we can feature and perform well in the tournament.
It’s also going to be a dream come true for me if I can qualify for the Pro-Tour Grand Final Tournament in 2015, and I believe it is possible if I get enough support to play in many tournaments in the New Year.
What are your expectations for Nigeria in 2015?
I hope Nigeria dominates Africa by winning the Team and Individual Tournaments in Cairo come January 2015. I pray we achieve this feat because Egypt has been ruling the sport in Africa for years, and we are going there to take over from the Egyptians this time around.
It’s going to be great if our federation can embark on youth development just like it did in 2014, which yielded good results for us as a table tennis playing nation. But the project will attract more money and I think it will be great if the NTTF gets sponsors to prosecute the project. Moreover, I believe that 2015 is going to be a better year for Table Tennis in Nigeria.
What are the problems confronting Table Tennis in Nigeria?
One of the major problems confronting Table Tennis in Nigeria is poor funding because the Table Tennis Federation lacks sponsors. We hardly feature in five tournaments every year. Our country focuses on football alone, which can give the nation just a medal in any competition.
Other sports in the country are suffering because they are not really catered for by the government. This has forced major companies in Nigeria to follow suit by sponsoring entertainment and football to the detriment of other sports including table tennis.
But we should not forget that table tennis won a lot of medals for Nigeria during the era of Atanda Musa and other former top players because they got sponsors to participate in various tournaments. The opportunities enabled them to get exposure and they gained more experience, and were able to defeat African countries easily some years ago.
What are the challenges facing Nigerian players in international table tennis and at club levels?
There are challenges in every aspect of life whether we face the reality or not, in international tournaments, we Nigerian players have problem of exposure because we don’t play tournaments regularly.
This makes the spectators to brand us as players from a third world country that feature in tournaments without any ambition. Due to this, we lose several of our international matches. To erase this, our players need financial support to play regular tournaments.
At the club level, the main challenges we face are fitness and optimum performance. It is expected that we play to the top level, by giving our hundred per cent all the time. This is due to the fact that we are playing abroad as foreign players and none of the clubs will be willing to sign any foreign player who is not consistent in winning matches for them.
However the Chinese-born players are major obstacles to us because the clubs sign them and give them priority over foreign players. We Nigerian players must raise our games to get a look in because the Chinese players are better exposed.
Another problem we encounter is that many foreign clubs don’t know how good Nigerian players are because we hardly feature in international tournaments, this prevents us from getting good offers from top table tennis clubs across the World.
What was your growing up like?
I was born in Oyo town in Oyo State, South West Nigeria. I had both my primary and secondary school education in my home town. I attended LA. New Durbar Primary School and Oba Adeyemi High School from 1994-2005. I’m from a polygamous family and I am the last born of our family. Growing up in Oyo was great as a youth and I can recall some sweet memories back then. I had many friends during my school days and I still get in touch with some of them till today.
When and how did you start playing table tennis?
I started playing table tennis with friends on the streets when I was just 7 years old but none of us took it as a serious game back then. After playing the sport as an outdoor game for many years, I was lucky to start playing it as an indoor game through the help of a God’s sent man; Mr Oluwole Abolarin, who brought me to the table tennis hall.
The Good Samaritan saw the talent in me and started training me immediately. And, seeing that I have improved more than his expectations within two years, he encouraged me to achieve my potentials. This is a man I can’t forget in my life, to God be the glory, and we are still in touch till today.
What’s the reaction of your parents when you opted to play table tennis?
My parents did not support me initially but they started supporting me fully in 2000 when I won my first ever cadet tournament in Lagos. Interestingly, my parents read about me and my achievements in the news media, and that alone earned me recognition and they started supporting me since that time.
Who are your role models?
All our past players are my role models, especially former Nigerian star Atanda Musa and a host of others.
Which other sports did you do and why did you prefer table tennis?
I prefer table tennis to other sports because it does not involve a lot of techniques from the beginning. Also, I prefer table tennis because players are not exposed to serious injuries like some hard sports, anyone can try to play table tennis whether you know how to play the game or not.
However, I loved and participated in athletics during my Primary School years. I was good in the 100m boys race and I was also a member of my School’s Relay Team back then.