by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF Africa, Press Officer
Chair of the Local Organising Committee and now Chair of the ITTF Nominations Committee; he believes the tournament has lifted the fortune of the sport in the continent.
He spoke on the vision to make the tournament rival some of the best in the world.
“We continue to plan ahead. We have reviewed the last two years and now we look out for areas where we can improve the event. We start planning early on how to make it a better tournament.
Quite a few members of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation and Lagos State Government attend or watch online the best international events and we try to learn from what the organisers there are doing. We also pick up tips from other major sports events. We do not rest on our past successes. It is for this reason that the Nigeria Open continues to be the best international sports event in Nigeria. This year we are quite sure that we will have a larger number of top players and that makes for a more competitive tournament.
A lot of thanks goes to our sponsors across different categories. Most importantly the NTTF continues to receive the support of the Lagos State Government and for this we say a big thank you to His Excellency Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, the Governor of Lagos State and his sports team in particular. The infrastructure support is crucial to the hosting of the event and the human resources, which they devote to the event makes our work easier.
The support of Chief Kessington Adebutu – Chairman Baba Ijebu Sports Bet has seen this event grow to a super world class event. A host of private sector partners have fully adopted this event as their own and it continues to enhance the narrative of Lagos as a major sports tourism destination in Africa. The President NTTF, Engr Ishaku Tikon has also shown his full commitment to ensuring the continuity and growth of the event along with other NTTF events. Importantly the ITTF and their World Tour Sponsor – Seamaster group have also recognised the part this event plays in the development of table tennis talents in Africa as it gives our African players the chance to compete with the best players in the world right here on the continent before their fans.
The excitement that surrounds the event continues to attract the top players. The atmosphere created by the fans is different from any other event in the table tennis world. Drumming, clapping, singing and supporting the players non-stop encouraged these players to put in excellent performances.
Word of mouth in the table tennis world is that Lagos is the place to be. Our event and all the accompanying razzmatazz is the face of modern table tennis. The Nigeria Open does sport and entertainment in the right balance. We must also thank our partners especially Baba Ijebu, Eko Hotel and Suites, Unilever and a host of others who continue to give fantastic hospitality to all the participants. Our international and local partners are indeed true partners in every sense of the word. Without them we could not put this event on.
We benchmark ourselves against world standards in sports. For me, it is critical that we must only look at events like Wimbledon, the French Open as models for where we are heading. There is no reason we can’t meet those standards at least in terms of organization and presentation. Even if our facilities are not of those standards we must always ask ourselves, are we doing the best with what we have got?
It is a lot of hard work and creativity. Many people working hard and volunteering their time to ensure that we produce the best we can. The massive support the media gives in covering our events. Right from Supersport’s live coverage and all our other television, radio and newspaper coverage, the NTTF is really grateful for the coverage and support we receive across board. From year to year we keep on seeking ways to improve the event.
More top quality performances, better attention to details in meeting ITTF standards; this year we expect the largest number of top 100 players across both male and female categories. The enquiries we have been receiving even before the tournament prospectus was released tells us to expect a bumper event.
We shall also be kicking off the event this year by also hosting the National Junior League and the ITTF Africa (Western Region) Singles Championships to usher in the Nigeria Open. So we wet the fans appetites with the best of junior table tennis and this also helps to prepare our young players for the Under 21 event at the Nigeria Open. It will be three exciting weeks of table tennis.
The uniqueness is created by the fans. The way they appreciate and support all players is second to none. They really raise the roof. Nigerian fans truly love their sport and the fact that we now have four or five top world class players gives the fans something to cheer. When players enter the Sir Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall, venue of the tournament, they get a buzz and a charge like no other anywhere in the world except of course the top venues in China, Japan and Germany, the table tennis superpowers. We are quite confident that now we are coming quite close to those countries.
Lagos State holds a starring role as usual. The support of the state in terms of the infrastructure, transportation, hospitality and human resources they put at our disposal is massive. Their staff, who work on this project with the NTTF continue to acquire the knowledge that is so important for hosting top class events. Lagos has over the years continued to develop its capacity in this regard and it is well on its way to fulfilling the vision of the government to be a major player as one of the world’s top sports tourism destinations.
It is this that the ITTF has recognized and led to them appointing Dr. Kweku Tandoh (Executive Chairman), Lagos State Sports Commission as the Tournament Director for this event. He brings with him over 30 years’ experience in sports administration and this can only help enhance the tournament.
We started this tournament as a way of developing our young players by bringing the best players in the world to come to Nigeria to play against our players and give our players an opportunity to learn from the best. The quality of our top players now tells us that this method has been successful. But we need to work harder so we can develop a large pool of male and especially female players who can now go on and conquer Africa and the world; the next generation of Toriola, Aruna and Oshonaikes. It continues to grow beyond our wildest dreams.
We expect approximately 30 to 40 players in the world’s top 200 and a sizeable number being in the top 100. For a tournament of this size that is a fantastic coup. The likes of Omar Assar, the Pharaoh of Lagos as he is fondly known and world no.16, will lead a bevy of top class stars including of course Africa’s favourite son Aruna “the forehand” Quadri.
We have players who have between themselves won over ten ITTF Tour and Challenge titles. We are also expecting players from over 30 countries and very importantly a young team from China to participate.
It is a world class field and this attests the quality and importance of our event on the world scene. Nigeria should rightly be proud of this event.”