We must back our athletes with funds – Oshodi

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It's the funding to continue to expose them to the best coaching better tournaments and of course to keep them equipped. We must continue to try and find the money to get them playing on the junior professional tour

The President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Wahid Oshodi, is passionate about youth development and this has been doing with sponsoring of series of junior programmes for table tennis players across the country and against the backdrop of Nigeria’s blackout at the ITTF African Junior Championships, Oshodi believes more funding is required to support the talents. He spoke with newsmen on the game. Excerpts:

What is the feeling like after the two players picked Youth Olympic Games slots and won the qualifiers?
It’s a good feeling. Very proud. It’s a great reward for all the hard work that the table tennis family has put into supporting and developing these young players. It just goes to confirm that the future for table tennis in Nigeria is bright. I am happy for Tosin Oribamise. She has competed well and her talent is not in question. I would like to see her continue to develop and become a fixture in the senior national team. She is very gifted young lady and she now needs to couple those gifts with hard work and discipline.

How satisfied are you with the two-man team?
I am quite satisfied. You know we had prepared them very well. With all our youth programmes in the NTTF and the clinics by Segun Toriola and especially Olufunke Oshonaike working very hard with our coaches on this team, it just makes their performance more satisfactory. Our coaches have done very well in following up with the children. A special mention really must go to the Ekiti State Coach Bode Ajayi, Aiyelabegan in Kwara State and Dotun Omoniyi in Ondo, who, despite their humble resources, continue to produce fantastic young players for the national junior teams.

Did you expect them to perform the way they had done in Tunis despite their fact the most of their opponents have featured at the ITTF African Junior Championships?
I was really confident about this team. That’s why I had to make the extra effort to get the team here for the YOG. I have said in the past that our current set of young players are probably the most naturally gifted I have seen in all my years in table tennis and there is a quiet determination about them to follow the footsteps of the great players we have like Segun Toriola, Olufunke Oshonaike and Edem Offiong and of course Quadri Aruna. My only concern was the fact that the whole team could not play in the African Juniors prior to the YOG. This would have been a great tune up for them and would have given them a chance to assess their opponents. But they have still managed to pull through. Great efforts on their part.

What support do you think these young players need to excel like their senior counterparts?
It’s the funding to continue to expose them to the best coaching better tournaments and of course to keep them equipped. We must continue to try and find the money to get them playing on the junior professional tour. That is what the best countries do and we can’t do it differently. I thank the good people (Friends of Table Tennis) who continue to assist the players but Government has to find a way to take the lions share in funding the junior players and helping the development of the game from the grassroots up. We have the talent and we must now back that talent up with the money to develop it.

How will you describe the missing of the ITTF African Junior Championship and what impact will it have on the players?
I think this sad situation has actually been my lowest point in sports administration in the twenty years I have been involved. To prepare programmes and get the children and the national team coaches working hard for three months and bringing the players to a great condition and then have the rug pulled out from under our feet because of funding issues at the last moment. It is a real blow to our development. A lot of personal and private funds went in to our preparations and it all seems a waste now. To explain to these young teenagers that they can’t go to the tournament after all the hard work was really difficult. I have never felt worse. We can only continue to encourage them that there will be other chances in future. I hope this will not push some of them out of the game.

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