There is a silent squash revolution going on in Nigeria
The OAU team arrived with the age-category games already underway. Little kids, some of them barely larger than the rackets they held, displayed great promise as they battled it out. The way these kids are already playing at Cargolux – well, what can one say? Watch out for them in the near future.
Playing skills are, however, not the only thing being cultivated in these young ones; we also want to imbue in them life skills. This is part of the philosophy new members at the OAU Squash Club get. The benefits of playing the game are myriad – health, physical and mental toughness, a positive channel for your energies (this especially for students at such an impressionable stage of life), lifelong friendships, and the opportunity to meet and be mentored by quality people in matters such as career and business.
The long, drawn out rallies in the classic final (Wale Amao, Lanre Abdulrahman – Male, Yemisi Olatunji, Dasbak Longdi – Female) were seemingly endless. They were a testament to the supreme fitness of players at this level. Each player was trying this and that, finding a way to outwit their opponent.
Their exchanges highlighted how much squash is a tactical game. They traded sizzling-hot volleys that left the ball in a blur, visible only at the last moment. And when that didn’t work, they – as if in agreement – changed the pace and began testing each others precision with tailor-made ‘lengths’ that hugged the wall all the way to the back of the court.
These guys are stars in their own right, but what pleases the most, is that they are also well on their way to earning their degrees – one or two of them already with a bachelor’s and contemplating post graduate studies. As the evening wore on, the tournament took on a festive tone, old friends reuniting and hugging.
Seated up in the row of large leather armchairs, livening up the VIP area, was the ebullient Dr. Amatare Dinyain who had arrived all the way from Bayelsa leading the Yenagoa Squash Club.
Along with other ‘fathers on the court’ such as Professor Oluseye Bolaji, and Dr. A. O. Olorunisola (Papi K), he did his bit developing squash on the OAU campus. Ever the squash evangelist, he is at work again planting and growing the Yenagoa Squash Club.
What do all these inter-state visits, occurring with rising frequency and featuring increasing bonding and coordination between clubs, portend?
An informal, but vibrant squash circuit is being born, expanding from Lagos to Ife and all the way to Yenagoa. However, squash infrastructure and the organization and sponsorship of tournaments do not happen by themselves. All these have been commensurate with increased squash philanthropy – on both corporate and individual levels.
Captain Sina Akinfenwa is the man behind Cargolux Merchant Express Nigeria, sponsors of the Lagos Country Club event. Larry Ettah, Chairman of UAC Nigeria is doing his fair share at O-Trafford, Ikoyi. And in more recent times, Architect Funmi Bankole, an OAU alumnus, led a group at the Lagos Country Club to renovate the OAU squash courts. Among donors were the Udo-Akagha brothers, from a squash playing family; Mr. Taye Ige, CEO of HotSports Nigeria; Mr. Ayo Ogunsusi, another distinguished OAU alumnus; and others too numerous to mention for space, but no less supportive of OAU squash.
Mr. Phillip Fadehan has on numerous occasions, kindly gathered rackets contributed by members of his club in Abuja ‘for the boys in Ife’. Last year, Evans Medical plc, manufacturers of Glucose D, footed a large portion of the bill for our Squash week.
These days everyone talks about change, especially with a new government fresh in after national elections. But the developments we are witnessing in squash are driven by individuals taking ownership and acting in their own little corners – change that in my opinion, is more pervading than any programme government has put in place.
Surely, government has a role to play in the development of sports, but there appears to be an attitude about these people who invest a massive amount of their resources mentoring youth while developing the game of squash. They seem to be saying, “Government is welcome, but we will not wait on government”.