By Oluranti Akerele:
The title should actually have been’ARUNA QUADRI: THE UNSUNG HERO’, but that will give this article a clichéd look. Anyway, he was actually a sung hero; at least the Nigerian media celebrated him for a day. Thereafter, we have moved on. But, hold on…
On January 9th 2015, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, ArunaQuadri achieved an extra-ordinary feat when he was named as the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) player of the year for 2014. To emerge winner, Quadri outshone the world’s number one table tennis player XuXin of China, Youth Olympic champion Fan Zhendong, as well as European Team Championships gold medallist, Marcos Freitas of Portugal. The world simply stood still for a moment as Quadri mounted the rostrum to receive his award. But back home in Nigeria, the significance of Quadri’s achievement seems to be lost on the populace. People are not talking about it. Quadri is an unsung hero because of his sport.
For most Nigerians, his name does not readily ring a bell, yes, but he is the world’s table tennis player and he is a Nigerian. He is unsung because the media have chosen not to ‘sing’ him, or they chose to announce him with the smallest kakaki. That is the best they can give a table tennis player, regardless of the feat he has achieved in the sport. His crime? His sport.
But what you call Quadri’s crime is actually a royal diadem for the Oyo-born super star, who was crowned with ping-pong most elitist award, while foreigners cheered and clapped in far away Dubai. As much as he is not as popular as Vincent Enyeama, Nwankwo Kanu, even Godfrey Oboabona, Quadri has arguably achieved much more feat in his chosen career than most Nigerian footballers. He plies his trade in Portugal, where he has blossomed into a cherished sportsman country-wide. I’m not surprised he carried his trade to foreign lands. Here in Nigeria, the only sport that has a ‘shakily functional’ league is football. Other sports are derelict, to put it in the mildest way possible.
Let’s acquaint ourselves with some heroics from the tennis superstar. Apart from countless Player of the Month awards he has received in Portugal, he was the Champion of Intercontinental World Team Cup, 2010 and gold medalist, African Senior Singles’ Championship in Rabat, Morocco. He has been all conquering from his youth. He was champion of Cadet Star Open, 2000; champion Elephant Cadet Open and President OlusegunObasanjoOpen in 2001; top 32 Invitational Player, 2003; silver medalist at the National Sports Festival, just to mention a few of an extensively glistering collection.
Aruna Quadri should not languish in obscurity because of the sport he is in. There are countless Nigerian sportsmen doing us proud the world over in other sports beside football, but we hardly celebrate them because our paradigm is fixed on one sport – football. Still in table tennis, there is also a certain Segun Toriola who has hoisted the country’s flag to high heavens. Toriola has been ranked as Nigeria’s best tennis player since 1995, ranked Africa’s best from 1998-2008, spanning a whole decade of uninterrupted reign. The likes of Toriola and Quadri should not be left to languish into obscurity because of the sport they choose to hone their skills in. It is sad that sportsmen of their sort are not given the necessary publicity; their exploits are not attended with pomp and pageantry like the footballers.
Ironically, football on the other hand has not rewarded us enough considering the level of passion and resources we put into it. The focus football enjoys ensures the mouth-watering rewards it garners and asking for a paradigm shift to another sport might be too much to ask for. But at least that paradigm should be re-adjusted, enlarged to accommodate other sports in its bossom. Mirroring football, in recent years, we have not had any Nigerian player winning the African Player of the Year since NwankwoKanu won it in 2009. How long is that? You may want to do the Maths. But in a supposedly ‘lesser sport’, we have had a Nigerian winning it back to back for 10 years. Nigeria’s best footballing moment ever after our 1996 Olympic Gold in Atlanta, USA, is our triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. On the world scene, we celebrate to high heavens if our players get in the most obscure leagues in Poland and the likes. But now that our own wins recognition as the ITTF player of the year, we refuse to celeberate him, because he does table tennis, not football or athletics.
There are many Aruna Quadris in Nigerian sports but they are not properly celebrated probably because of the sport they are in. Should they continue to languish in obscurity because their skills are not included in the sporting paradigm? No, let’s shift this paradigm.
Ok! Shifting the paradigm can be too much to ask for and even contravenes Robert Greene’s 45th Law of Power (of which I am a big fan) – Preach the Need for Change; But Never Reform Too Much At Once. If we can’t completely shift the paradigm, then let us enlarge it. That, certainly, is not too much to ask for.
–Oluranti Akerele is a 400 level student of Mass Communication, University of Lagos.