The much-anticipated ITTF Challenge Seamaster Nigeria Open begins today (Wednesday August 8) at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos. Heavyweights from 26 countries including host – Nigeria battle for glory in the $46,000 prize money tournament.
169 players made up of 101 men and 68 women will compete in six events at the five-day competition. The competition has become Africa’s elite tournament. And it is sanctioned by the world table tennis ruling body – International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).
At the press briefing to herald the commencement of the championship, the Tournament Director, Kweku Tandoh, describes this year’s tournament as the biggest so far. Tandoh adds that with the quality of organization, players across the globe are now willing to be part of the championship.
“We are so excited that the tournament is growing each year. This year, we have more countries and players. For us, this goes to show that we are rising. And we will continue to do that as long as we are getting the needed support particularly the huge support from our title sponsor – Baba Ijebu and host – Lagos State Government. Everything is set and for the next five days, people will watch the best of table tennis.
Meanwhile, Tournament Manager, Mounir Bessah, lauds the LOC for always adding colour to the tournament. The foreigner hopes that more players would be willing to be part of it in future. “I am happy with the organization and ITTF believes the LOC has done a lot to raise the profile of this tournament. I can see improvement every year,” Bessah adds.
For the President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Ishaku Tikon, the host – Lagos State has indeed put Nigeria on the global map by providing the platform for the tournament to thrive. “We will remain grateful to Lagos State Government for their unflinching support at ensuring that this tournament gets the needed attention globally. We hope others can take a cue from them.”
Cash reward for Nigerian players
Furthermore, the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode has promised to give cash bonuses to successful Nigerian players participating in the tournament.
The Director General of the Lagos State Sport Commission (LSSC), Babatunde Bank-Anthony made this known at the press conference in Lagos on Tuesday August 7.
“The Governor’s bonus for this year is that His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State has instituted a bonus for Nigerian players that will do well in all categories – both Men singles and Women Singles. This is because we know that they may not get to win the titles”, Bank-Anthony states.
Also, Bank-Anthony notes: “We will make use of the bonus wisely to encourage Nigerian players to go further. We believe that this will help them to at least improve and perform better.”
Local hope ready for Lagos tourney
Since inception of the ITTF Challenge Nigeria Open, no Nigerian player has won the title in the singles events. But assurance from Olajide Omotayo and Esther Oribamise has shown that the host will not disappoint this year.
Commonwealth Games silver medalist, Olajide Omotayo believes with the present form of some of the players, they are ready to wrestle the titles from the foreigners. “We are all ready for the tournament this year. We have the quality to match the foreigners. I am hopeful that we will give our best and hope for the best. The likes of Aruna Quadri, Bode Abiodun and Segun Toriola have always inspired us that we can be the best in the game. We are fully ready to see Nigerian players on the podium this year,” he says.
Oribamise, a bronze medalist at the 3rd African Youth Games in Algiers is optimistic that things would look up for Nigerian players this year. “We are all in good shape and I can tell you that all of us know what is at stake. Apart from the prize money, we are also aiming to improve our ranking with this tournament,” she states.
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