The rise and rise of Aruna Quadri
There is much to be excited about in the steady growth of Aruna Quadri into a major player on the International Table Tennis circuit.The 29-year-old, just this month, created an admirable record: becoming the first Nigerian player to win an International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour title with victory in the Polish Open. That achievement also makes him the first African player to win such a title outside of Africa’s shores. The message is clear: this is without a doubt one to watch.
Quadri, who is currently ranked number 36 in the global rankings, was knocked out in the Round of 16 at the ITTF World Cup in Liege, Belgium, last week.
It is no flash in the pan either, if you have been paying attention. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Quadri went the farthest any African player has ever gone at the Games by getting to the Quarterfinal, beating then World no. 7, Chuang Chih-Yuan, and 10th-ranked Timo Boll en route. This, in only his second Olympics appearance, signaled a player competing at the height of his powers.
The challenge, of course, is that table tennis gets little by way of attention in Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation remains besotted with football, to the total detriment of other sports.
Football is easy to set up, requires no specialised equipment to play, and is a team game: everyone can join in. This makes it very attractive to children growing up, and reinforces its pride of place in the country.
Table tennis lacks the same following, and as such Quadri appears to have developed virtually unknown. Strictly speaking, he hasn’t: in 2014, he became the first African player to reach the Quarterfinals of the Men’s World Cup; that it did not register significantly in the public consciousness tells all you need to know about the profile of table tennis in the country.
It is telling that, in a sport that is starting to see teenagers put themselves on the map, Quadri at 29 seems to have come from nowhere. That however should do nothing to faze him, and if the exploits of Segun Toriola, competitive still at 46 and the only African to participate in seven Olympic Games, is anything to go by, then we could be set for a long period of dominance from Quadri.
Already, he has begun to get the upper hand over rival Omar Assar, memorably defeating the Egyptian last year in the final of the ITTF Africa Cup. More than simply a confirmation of his talent, these victories are needed to get eyeballs, to draw attention to a potential future medal avenue at the Olympics for Nigeria. That is the downside of competing in something of a “niche” sport.
Talent alone is never enough though, and as such it is necessary to acknowledge the amount of effort and sacrifice it takes to reach the top of one’s game in any sport, let alone one like table tennis; an individual sport, there is no one covering your back, filling in for your inadequacies. It places a great onus on your own personal development, as well as the need for consistency.
It also says quite a bit about his humility and willingness to learn. To hear him speak, even in the wake of defeat, is to hear one with his priorities in place, always seeking out the lessons, determined to bounce back.
That he has been able to grow to this length without any real administrative backing speaks volumes, and surely now is the time for a concerted push. Interestingly, aside former Nigerian Table Tennis (NTTF) boss Wahid Enitan-Oshodi, it is the private sector that has swiftly seen his potential and moved to leverage it. Betting firm, Premier Lotto, have signed him up to a three-year deal worth $75,000 to help him prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
As the storied career of the legendary Toriola has showed, there is something of a divide between African players and their Asian and European counterparts. However, in Quadri, we finally have someone bridging said gap, actively challenging the established heavyweights on their own turf.
There has long been a suspicion that Nigeria has failed to extract the maximum from its best sportspersons at their peak, due to mismanagement and neglect. It would be a mistake to fail to back Quadri to the hilt.
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