Sports

Why Yoruba dominate Table Tennis in Nigeria

Many years back, when the National Stadium Lagos, was the beehive of Nigeria’s sporting activities, this reporter had the opportunity of watching Nigerian athletes training for one of the Olympic games.
The sport that caught one’s interest the most were football, boxing, table tennis basketball and athletics, naturally for those were the days when Mary Onyeali-Omagbemi and other famous athletes of that era were at their peak.
But what struck one instantly was the language of communication among the sportsmen and their trainers in their respective camps.
Generally, “Pigeon English” was the most popular language of communication. Understandably too, basketballers communicated among themselves in overdone fast American baritones since the bulk of them resided in US as they do  even till this day.
The popularity of “Pigeon” English among the athletes  then as is still the case could be attributed to the fact that many Nigerians are more at home with “Pigeon” English than the Standard English probably because many of the athletes did not go beyond the high school level.
But the case of table tennis camp is another kettle of fish altogether.  Neither Pigeon English nor Standard English is the medium of communication.  Rather, Yoruba language is conveniently preferred by the athletes and their trainers/coaches.  More than anything, over 99.99% of table tennis players invited from national camping are usually of Yoruba stock on merit, of course.
One of the highlights of the 2016 Rio Olympics was the honour bestowed on Segun Toriola by the Olympic Games organizers for the rare feat of having attended the Olympic Games on seven occasions, though he has not won any medal of any colour.
Toriola might have been honoured by the Olympic fraternity but it speaks volumes of how stagnant the game of tennis has been in Nigeria in the last 27 years when Toriola first attended the games if the country cannot find his replacement/replacements.
Again, it raises the indisputable fact that in Nigeria, Southwest or Yorubaland, is the centre of the game of table tennis.  This obviously is linked to the fact that the game was first introduced in Southwest by the colonialists.  In fact the Yoruba Social Club in Lagos recently celebrated her centenary.
One of the games introduced at the club on inception was table tennis.
From there the game quickly spread to other parts of the region as it was comparatively cheap to mount and does not occupy much space.  Thus, many streets in urban areas in the South West and even rural communities have, in the last 75 years at least, had tennis boards mounted at several points where young men and women are exposed to the game at early age.  It is pertinent to recall at this point in time that the only Igbo that has made an appreciable impact in the game was Hypolite Amuzie in the 1970s.
Therefore, why Yoruba should be the lingua franca of a typical table tennis national camp, should no longer surprise Nigerians.

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