Squash ensured Nigeria’s flag was flown on the global stage the last time the world witnessed the Men’s Team Championships, in 2019. It was an encouraging development considering the African giant had not featured in the event in 20 years. However, even though the Nigeria Squash Federation (NSF) had to go through the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to set the seal on players’ participation in the prestigious biennial tournament, the government bureau did not provide support for the association.
This has often been the case with the best squash-playing nation in West Africa. As a result, stakeholders have to rally round to make sure players — many of whom are young and ambitious — compete with the best in the world.
One Nigerian player pencilled in for the 2019 World Squash Federation (WSF) Men’s Team Championship was Adegoke Onaopemipo. An under-23 who is top-rated locally, visa glitches meant he couldn’t partake in the competition which was held in Washington DC, USA. He moved on and has since participated in PSA-sanctioned singles tournaments in India and Kuwait, thanks to funding support from squash lovers in his homeland and the diaspora. PSA is an abridgement of the Professional Squash Association, the governing body for the men’s and women’s non-amateur squash circuit.
“Lately, it has been great,” Onaopemipo told TOP MEDIA with noticeable delectation. “Due to their generous and valuable support, I was able to attend two international tournaments in two weeks (in Q3 and Q4 of 2022), and that boosted my confidence.”
He made special mentions of the NSF President, Boye Oyerinde, and a former Nigeria No. 1, Babatunde Ajagbe, who in his words, “I wouldn’t have received the support of the diasporans and stakeholders without the duo.”
‘Onas’ as Onaopemipo is fondly called, transitioned from junior to senior, benefitting from cyclic tournaments sponsored by compatriots who have migrated abroad for greener pastures. The lessons taught from playing junior tournaments from a young age helped players like Onas thrived.
Foreign-based Stakeholders Determined to Help Develop Squash in Nigeria
First staged in 2017, the Ex-Pros Squash Diaspora‘s age-grade national championships have helped in the discovery of special players. Many are monitored by the NSF.
Former professionals investing their resources on the young ones softens the burden of the NSF, as acknowledged by its president in a 2019 interview: “I am glad that Ex-Squash players are joining to promote the sport in Nigeria. It would not have been easy for my board members and I had former players not come up with this idea.
“Squash players have enjoyed competing in different PSA and developmental championships, which helped shore up Nigeria’s global rankings.
“The Ex-Pros championship is another avenue for children to hone their skills. The children are accommodated and fed for the days of the championship by the organisers,” Oyerinde said.
TOP MEDIA spoke with Kunle Adebiyi, the Chief Secretary Officer of the erstwhile squash professionals in diaspora. Adebiyi bemoaned the state of the sports scene in Nigeria. According to him, “we put square pegs in round holes and expect things to be right”.
Support seems to be at the heart of Adebiyi and associates’ missions. Independently, his Foundation organised the Theodore Adebiyi squash championships for budding talents. The other, which is bigger, is the Mama Tunde Alaso National Open “Racket Festival” which features tennis, badminton and squash.
Asked about the inspiration, he replied: “It is basically to give back. Some stakeholders gave us the opportunity and support just as we are doing now.”
He added: “Talented young people abound in Nigeria. They only need to be guided, nurtured, encouraged and supported to attain their goals.
“There is joy and peace of mind when you know you have touched the lives of others positively.”
‘Government Not Investing in Squash Hurts’
The Nigerian federal government’s repeated snub of a sport that has unprecedentedly produced a former National Coach of Mexico and Guatemala (Shakiru Matti) is perceptible. Key stakeholders in the Nigerian squash fraternity were furious with the Ministry of Sport following the omission of the racket game from the 2022 Commonwealth event.
Team Nigeria competed at the Games in Birmingham, England, where it topped the list of African teams in respect of medals won.
It was the country’s 15th appearance at the tournament and Nigeria participated in nine sports, namely athletics, wrestling, boxing, karate, table tennis, weightlifting, para-athletics, para-powerlifting, and para-table tennis. Despite being one of the country’s best Commonwealth medal hopes, squash was shut out.
This did not sit well with squash enthusiasts, especially as neighbouring Ghana presented representatives.
On the government not trusting and investing in squash, UK-based Adebiyi pointed out that it is not an isolated case.
“The truth is that the FG is not investing in sports generally, so squash is not isolated.
“This is the reason why the NSF board should have long and short-term plans in relation to the development of squash. The federation needs to concentrate on grassroots and develop squash in all regions in Nigeria,” he counselled.