Nigeria is overwhelmingly football-centric, with a major part of the financial quota allocated to sports invested in that one sport.
The only league that has some patronage, and a little consistency, is the Nigeria Professional Football League, which makes it unbelievable that a talented football player swaps his playing boots for a bat. That is what Olajide Omotayo did according to this interview he granted PREMIUM TIMES.
Omotayo, 25, revealed he shifted his focus to table tennis when he got interviewed by a television station just one month into a nascent table tennis career. “What really happened back then was you know, I started playing table tennis, then after a month, I went for a national tournament – the Asoju-Oba tournament.”
The first Asoju Oba table tennis tournament debuted in 1968 and was initially bankrolled by Molade Okoya-Thomas, but the annual event is now hosted in tandem with the Lagos State Sports Commission.
Omotayo continues, “It is one of the, let’s say, oldest tournaments in Africa, in the world of sport I think then and I got to the final and lost. This was my first tournament. So, I was like number 2 in Lagos state in a few months.
“I was like, oh my God. Yeah, and when I was playing this final. The governor of Lagos State was present. The Oba, you know all these people, they were there, the press was there. I was like oh my God – I am a celebrity…
“I was like, newspaper they were coming, LTV came and interviewed me. I was like, oh my God. That was what made me fall in love with the game.
“I thought like I’ve been playing football, playing for school, playing with friends, playing here and there. I never for one, once, like being interviewed or anything. I was like okay it seems like I said give this table tennis more, like more, more of my time.
“Yes, so I invested. That was what took me off football because there was a lot of table tennis tournaments and football is a very difficult sport because almost everybody in Nigeria knows how to play football. Like if you are from the (neighbour)hood where I came from like Shomolu, Bariga, all this place – once we go out from school like this, we go to a nearby field and start playing football at Baptist Academy or something. So, football is like a very difficult sport.
”That was what made me stay with table tennis,” Omotayo added.
But the 2020 Olympic Games qualifier is not pleased with Nigerian sports administrators ”who have almost killed other sports because of their fixation on football.”
Omotayo believes all sports can become as popular as football in Nigeria if the administrators treat all athletes the same way. “What we need to do is all athletes to be paid the same money.”
He continued, “look at Brazil football, now Brazil, the British they made one rule now, their football national team male and female will be paid the same allowances.”