The Chairman, Lagos State Table Tennis Association, Tunji Lawal, says Nigerian table tennis players can reach their full potential with the right mentality, the right fitness level and adequate exposure.

Lawal said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on the sidelines of the graduation ceremony of the ‘Break the Bias, She Can’ initiative in Lagos held at the Rowe Park Sports Centre, Yaba, Lagos.

The programme was organised by Additional Plus Sports and Education Initiative in partnership with Lagos State Sports Commission.

Lawal said Nigerian players were not doing better than many of their opponents in other countries because they do not have the right mentality, the right fitness level as well as adequate exposure.

He said the poor performance of the country’s players at the recently-concluded World Table Tennis Contender in Lagos was proof that they needed to do a lot to match their counterparts in China, Korea and elsewhere.

“The rate at which international players are exposed, going from one tournament to another, their training regimes, and the facilities at their disposal are the reasons they are better than our players.

“These players are always careful about what they eat; they don’t indulge in junk and they also monitor their diets. However, Nigerian players don’t have the same. They eat whatever comes their way.

“To me, an average Nigerian player is kind of overweight for the game, and so, finds it difficult to keep up with the standard of the game.

“Nigerian players lack fitness in terms of movement, footwork, agility and other technicalities. We seriously need to restrategise,” he said.

Lawal added: ”Being a professional is a holistic thing; It is not about knowing how to play alone, it is about what you eat and your mentality.

“Athletes must be flexible. They must have pace and be able to move easily. So the way to go now is to encourage the younger ones to take over from the older ones.

“Hana Goda of Egypt became an African Champion at the very young age of 12, now going to 15 years. She started at a very young age.

“This is why we are encouraging more youngsters in table tennis and encouraging academies to spring up all over Nigeria.”

Lawal said he believed the future of table tennis is bright in Nigeria and that the country should focus on discovering young talents and nurture them to become world champions.

He said ‘Break Bias, She Can’ initiative was conceived to provide opportunities for young girls and help them to grow in the game.

“The future is bright. We can have players to replace someone like Funke Oshonaike and do better on the global stage.

“If the likes of Aruna Quadri can develop from the street without much support, with opportunities like the `Break the Bias, She Can’ the children can have a better opportunity.

“Our young children can grow with a better system, so we are working assiduously to create a better system which will work for us just as it is being done abroad,” he said.

Lawal also urged the state governments to invest in table tennis in order to develop the sport. He appealed to the Lagos State Government to help with sports infrastructure in order to aid the development of young athletes.

“We want to implore the state governments, especially, the Lagos State to support us and provide enough facilities to be able to develop this game. Lagos was once the best state in table tennis, while Nigeria was the best in Africa.

“Today, we are struggling to keep up right now because there are no tables, no facilities, no playing hall and all of these are affecting the sport in Lagos.

“As an association, we are doing our best to give all that we can to make the game grow. Our Asoju Oba Table Tennis Championship this year will be better- organised. And being the fifth year, the grand prize will be bigger because we are in talks with the sponsors,” he said.

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