From his humble beginning in the ancient city of Oyo, Aruna Quadri’s rise to stardom in global table tennis was not an easy task. What started as a hobby for the current African champion became a source of livelihood for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officer who stunned the world with his exceptional performance at the just concluded World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany. In modern table tennis, Quadri has become the first black and African player to make it to number 30 in the world and this feat has received accolades across the globe. The Portugal-based ping-ponger told Kunle Adewale that the journey had been very challenging
Aruna Quadri was born and breed in Oyo town, in Oyo State, where he had is primary and secondary school education from 1993-2005 before he moved to Lagos in search of greener pasture. “Initially, life was not easy in Lagos, but with time I got used to the system. As time goes on I adjusted to the hustle and bustle of city life,” Quadri recalled.
He started playing table tennis in 1996 in the streets of Oyo, “then, everybody played the game and it does not matter if one is good or not we just played it for fun. It happened that I live very close to table tennis hall in Oyo, just about 50 metres distance to my house and I used the opportunity to go and play there. That was how I started table tennis.”
Continuing he said: “One day I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Oluwole Abolarin in the hall, who happened to be the owner of about six table tennis boards and he just took interest in me naturally. He started training me and focused a lot on me just as if he had known that I would grow up to be a future champion. Few months later, I had improved so fast than his imagination. After years of vigorous practice, I finally started playing national tournament in Lagos in year 2000 in cadet category of which I won the title unexpectedly and since then I had been focusing on how to improve on my game. Abolarin introduced me to indoor table tennis; trained me and took me through the basics before I moved to Lagos to improve my game. He trained me for like three years.”
It was not that rosy for Quadri at the beginning as his parents were proving to be a stumbling block to his table tennis career.
“Initially my parents were not in support that I should take the game as my future meal ticket as they preferred that I concentrate on my studies. Education was my parents’ priority then. But after I won my first tournament in 2000 and they read about me in the media, it was then they gave their blessing. They did not waste time in giving the opportunity to practise once I arrived from school then. I only practiced in the afternoon after school hours.”
The Civil Defense Corps member admitted it was not easy combining table tennis with education. “I was only able to finish my secondary school before travelling for professional career. It was not that easy to combine the two without having financial support. I hardly have money to feed not to talk of paying school fees, hostel fee and all other things needed in school. So, I decided to pursue a professional career in table tennis.
After about two years as a professional, I had settled down a little bit and I enrolled in an online school in America-Atlantic International University and by virtue of the fact that I am a Civil Defense Corps member, I decided to study homeland security and security management, which I finished last year,” he said.
On his rapid rise to the top, being the first black man in modern era to be ranked number 30 in world, he said: “In every aspect of life, rising to the top is not always easy without having some God-sent angels in one’s life. Nobody knows about me after I started my professional career in 2010 but I have sacrificed a lot by sponsoring myself to tournaments every year and I guess my seriousness convinced the President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Enitan Wahid Oshodi, to be sponsoring me since the beginning of the year.
“With this rare opportunity from the man, I started praying to God so that I will not lose the opportunity because I knew that a lot of players were looking forward to the same opportunity. For this reason, I started working harder than before. In January and February this year, I featured in Qatar and Kuwait Open of which I did not play up to expectation but everyone knew t I was just unlucky not to have qualified out of group stage in Qatar open.”
Quadri was given another opportunity in the Germany Open in March but it was same story of not passing the group stage.
“Immediately after the German Open poor outing, I studied my mistakes for about three hours on video and I corrected them before subsequent tournaments. It was at the next tournament in the Spanish Open that God started crowning my efforts but some people felt it was by sheer luck that I got to round of 16. But the truth is that my confidence has increased after the Spanish Open after which I started winning against world class players. My successes could actually be traced to the president of NTTF for his support during my bad days and for the several opportunities giving to me; and to hard work and prayers.”
Quadri produced major world table tennis shocks by recording two stunning upsets on the opening day of the Liebherr ITTF Men’s World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany. The 26-year-old, who was ranked as low as 237 at the start of the year, beat world number 27 Kenta Matsudaira of Japan in his opening group game. He then went on to beat world number 37 Alexander Shibaev of Russia to progress to the final 16.
“I never thought I will progress to the next round because I was going to play against top-rated players who are ranked higher than me. So, I had thought to myself that if I lose, I had nothing to lose and if I win, it is a big thing for me. But, with the wins, I am ready to face any player because they will be under pressure as they are ranked well than I do.’’
It was not surprising however that Quadri met his wife in one of the table tennis circuit.
“My wife is also a table tennis player and I met her in the table tennis circuit. We started going out in 2007 just like a joke and I thank God that we ended up in marrying. I’m so lucky to have her as a wife because things have really changed positively for me since we started dating. She is my God’s sent angel and her support has been tremendous in my getting to the top of my career.
Asked if his children would naturally take to table tennis considering that both parents are into the game, he said: “There is nothing bad in allowing my children to play table tennis provided that they have the interest in the game.”
On how much the country has supported him, especially during the low turn of his career, he reacted thus: “The country is not giving attention to the game and my rapid improvement could be traced to our federation president, who has been my back bone for playing tournaments regularly. The country only gives support for championship like All African Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games and that’s not enough for sports development. An organised country should not always be thinking of preparation for these games bur rather regular participation in international tournaments that can make us win medals in any competition. I can boldly say that I have not been supported by the country but rather by the Lagos State Commissioner for Youths and Sports, who also doubles as the NTTF President, Oshodi.”
For Quadri, life without table tennis is meaningless. The game has given a lot to my career and his life. “I completed my education from money I made from the game and I acquired all the things I have today through table tennis. Absolutely, for me there is no life without table tennis. I got recruited into Nigeria Security and Civil Corps due to my involvement in table tennis and the job is my future meal ticket immediately after I retired from the game.”
Little wonder the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps once celebrated Quadri after he ended the reign of African table tennis champion, El-Sayed Lashin of Egypt at the Africa Top 16 table tennis championship held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos.
According to the Director of Sports, NSCDC, Deputy Commandant Ayodele Titus: “We are using this medium to congratulate one of our own, Aruna Quadri on his triumph over reigning African table tennis champion, El-Sayed of Egypt at the Africa Top 16 table tennis championship. There is no doubt about the fact that Quadri made us proud and I want to state categorically on behalf of NSCDC that we will continue to encourage him as he enjoys his reign as African champion for as long as possible.”
He however said the game had not made him very rich but averagely okay. “I am averagely alright financially because I have always been satisfied with the little I have. Though, everything is not about money but if there is any legal way of making more money I am going to do that.”
Asked where he’s hoping to be in a few years’ time, he said: “I seriously hope and pray to be playing in a more competitive league than Portugal, where I presently play. I will like to play in Germany, France or Poland. And if opportunity opens in Sweden or Denmark, I will love to play there as well. Though the future depends mainly on God’s but I pray to be in a better condition than I am today.”
At the end of his table tennis career Quadri wants the country to remember him for all the good things he did for Nigeria – being a good ambassador of the country. He would however appreciate it if he is rewarded in terms of honours. Little wonder Quadri was selected for the National Sports Award slated for the MUSON Centre, Lagos.