It was a thrilling end to the inaugural Funke Oshonaike Table Tennis Classics today at the Indoor Sports Hall of the National Stadium Stadium, Surulere, Lagos as winners emerged in both the boys and girls categories. At the end of it, many who watched the competition, including Funke Oshonaike herself, the Nigerian table tennis queen who conceived the idea of the tournament, said the expectation was met. The event was initiated to encourage young talents to strive for the top and many of them testified to having been challenged. Apart from carting away cash prizes ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 naira, tennis balls and a crate of egg provided by one of Oshonaike’s supporters, some of the 27 participants who spoke to TELL said the idea behind it all was inspiring.The competition was open to boys and girls in the junior and cadet categories from around the country. In the female category, Aregbesola Nimota clinched the first position while Azeez Sholanke won in the boy’s category. They each got 50,000 but it wasn’t a winner take all affair as 14 other players in the boys and girls categories were rewarded as well. It was an affirmation of the spirit of the competition which was to encourage as many talents as possible. All the players were camped for the one week the event lasted. Oshonaike, in an interview with the magazine, said it was her own little contribution to the sport that made her. Currently based in Germany where she earns a living as a tennis player, the 42 year old, who has attended six Olympic tournaments, said it is important to develop young talents and that she probably won’t have come this far in her career had she not gotten help from some people, one of who is her father. Noting that hard work and dedication also count, Oshonaike recalled growing up in Shomolu and being assisted all the way by her father in her formative years to be the best she could be. This being the inaugural event, Oshonaike said a follow-up tournament would probably come up between July-August this year as it is not meant to be a one-off thing. “It’s Funke Oshonaike Foundation(that’s behind it) and when you say foundation, it’s not something that you just have to do once and cast aside,” she explained, while thanking some of her friends and Frot Foundation for lending her a helping hand and ensuring that she pulled it off. The prospect of the classic coming up again later in the year is one young players will fancy as some of them like Sholanke said this is the first competition they had been part of this year.
Jimoh Rofiat, 14 and student of Government Day Junior Secondary School, Ilorin, Kwara State, said she would love to participate in more tournaments. Her dream, she said, is to be like her mentor, Funke Oshonaike.
John Peters, a table tennis coach who oversaw the technical aspect of the competition, praised Oshonaike’s contribution to the sport and said such gesture is needed to improve the game in Nigeria in the face of competition from other countries. It is through such backing that more Oshonaikes can emerge. Recalling Oshonaike’s early years as a tennis lass, Peters said: “I remember those days she used to come with her father as a youth to play and with the encouragement of her father, she grew to become a champion, giving us joy. Anybody can be anything. When she started, although there were traits she was going to be a champion, she was not the only one that showed that trait. Because she was consistently dedicated, she grew up to become African champion. But the good thing is that she did not forget where she came from.”
The final event was witnessed by dignitaries like Wahid Enitan Oshodi, president of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation and Lilian Bach, Nollywood actress.