Table Tennis: Race to 2024 Olympics intensifies as WTT Contender serves on in Lagos

The qualification race in table tennis for the 2024 Olympics Games in Paris began on Monday, June 12 at the World Table Tennis (WTT) contender series, which served off in Lagos.

According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the qualification process among table tennis players to the Olympics commenced in June 2023, and a total quota of 172 players (86 men and 86 women) would represent their countries at the global sporting competition.

Beginning with the qualification process is the ongoing maiden WTT Contender series in Lagos, Nigeria, where 64 table tennis players are slugging it to get the required points to earn a space at the event.

The WTT Contender Lagos is the first WTT Series in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the three WTT Contender events taking place in Africa this year following the successful staging of the WTT Contender Durban in South Africa.

The third WTT Contender will hold later this month in Tunisia.

The Event Manager, Kweku Tando, explained that the WTT Contender series has two phases: the preliminaries and the main draw.

At the Molade Okoya-Thomas indoor sports hall, Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, 96 players began the knock-out contest at the preliminary stage to qualify for the main draw.

The preliminary stage is already producing impressive artistry from Nigerian players, who are locking horns with foreign players to determine their fate in the competition.

On day one in the qualifying round of the men’s singles, Jang Seongil of Korea defeated Nigeria’s Akinwale Fagbamila 3-1.

Also, Nigeria’s Riliwan Akanbi beat Adebowale Akinyemi 3-0.

Countries at WTT Contender series in Lagos

Participating countries in the series included Korea Republic, Germany, Slovenia, Chinese Taipei, India, China, Egypt, Slovakia, Poland, Portugal, Denmark, Ukraine, Algeria, Belgium, Italy, France, England, Côte d’Ivoire, Serbia, Ghana, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Wales, Sweden and Nigeria.

Host country Nigeria has the largest number of players in the preliminary round. The Nigerian contestants are hoping to join the likes of Taiwo Mati, Olajide Omotayo, Fatimo Bello and Edem Offiong in the main draw following the absence of their talisman, Quadri Aruna, due to a club engagement.

WTT Contender series will grow our grassroots athletes – LOC chairman

The Local Organising Committee (LOC) chairman, Wahid Oshodi, said the sporting tournament would help expose Nigerian players to learn from players from foreign countries.

“Now we are talking about Taiwo Mati. You remember him five years ago. He was just 15 years old, watching the big players, and now he is joining the top 32 in the world.

“The most important thing is that there are more than 20 to 30 Matis out there. Mati might be the best West African champion at the age group level.

“A lot is being done in Abuja, Ondo, Ekiti, and not just Lagos. Bayelsa looks like the stronghold of Nigerian table tennis. I would not have said that two years ago, but the chairman is doing a great job,” Oshodi said.

He was looking forward to a pool of surprises in the competition.

“There is a lot for us to be proud about, but we all know that in this tournament, we’ll have to wait for 19 years to be the best in the world,” he said.

He was optimistic that the competition would expose the players and give them the opportunity to rub shoulders with foreign players.

“Definitely, it is going to be competitve. This is the first time we have about 50 out of the top 150 players competing in Nigeria,” he said.

Nigerian players share expectations

The ICIR spoke with some of the Nigerian players. They said the tournament would help gain points on the ITTF ranking.

Etim Orok Effiong, who ranks 442 on the ITTF ranking, told The ICIR he was excited to feature at the competition, saying that it would help gain more points to move him higher in ranking.

Effiong said, “My ranking is 422 because it’s been long I played in an international tournament. The last time I played was in 2021 in West Africa, where I lost in the quarter-final.

“Participating in this World Table Tennis competition will boost my ranking and make me to be known.

“My expectation is to put in my best and make sure that every game counts.”

Augustine Emmanuel told The ICIR that his name was not initially included among the Nigerian table tennis players to feature in the competition.

However, due to the withdrawal of some top-ranked players from the event, his name was listed a few days to the commencement of the event.

“I have been training very hard. Now, I think I am good to play in the tournament,” Emmanuel said.

Azeez Solanke said he had been preparing since April for the competition.

“I have been preparing well since two months ago. My expectation is just to go out there and put in my best and make myself and my family proud.

“I have 52 points in ITTF ranking. I want to try to win some matches so that it can help me gain more points in the ranking.

“I hope to see myself play in the Olympics, world championships, and the All African Games,” Solanke said.






     

     

    The chief coach, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Bello Monsuru, enthused that the competition would help sharpen the ability of the grassroot players.

    Monsuru said, “It will make a good impact on our local players because they will play with different players, learn more skills and acquire more knowledge from the offshore players that are coming.

    “It will help them gain more points in their rankings. It is a kind of advantage for them because if you want to participate in the WTT Contender series in other countries, you know the challenge.”

    The WTT Contender Series in Lagos ends on Sunday, June 18, and the cash prize is $75,000.

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