The first men’s singles champion of the annual Asoju Oba Cup in 1968, Babatunde Obisanya says that the tournament has become a springboard for table tennis talents in the country.
As the tournament enters its 50th anniversary this year, Obisanya, former national coach believes majority of top table tennis stars in Nigeria came through the competition.
“I must admit that Asoju Oba has been the springboard of table tennis talents in Nigeria because most of the top players we had in this country came through it. Even when I won the competition in 1968, it was my performance that earned me a place in the senior national team while a lot of players joined me from the competition. I cannot enumerate all the gains that tournament has brought to Nigerian sports that even when I was the national coach, players were most times selected from the competition,” he said.
Obisanya described the healthy rivalry between Atanda Musa and late Yomi Bankole as the climax of the competition in which the eventual winner won the brand new Peugeot 504 in the 1980s. “For me, the climax of the tournament was when Atanda Musa and Yomi Bankole who were both members of the national team played in final when the sponsor donated a Peugeot Saloon car as the star prize for the eventual winner. This is the first time an athlete will be winning a new car by competing in a competition.” he added.
He described the instigator of the tournament – late Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas as a role model and philanthropist whose interest and passion in table tennis cannot be rivaled.
Among some of Nigeria’s best table tennis players that emerged through the Asoju Oba Cup include Bose Kaffo, Olufunke Oshonaike, Titus Omotara, and Ganiat Ogundele among others.
There are plans by the family of Okoya-Thomas to mark the Golden Jubilee of the tournament in a grand style with support from the Lagos State Government.
Before his demise in 2015, the late Okoya-Thomas was the chairman of the Lagos State Sports Endowment Fund, and he also served as chairman on many sports fund raising committees and was instrumental to the formation of Team Nigeria in 2003.
Okoya-Thomas’ contribution to sports in Lagos and Nigeria cannot be underestimated as he remained the only sponsor of the longest running table tennis competition in Africa.