Folusho Alade, Yenagoa
Bayelsa State is a state of aquatic splendour with its beautiful waters, creeks and rainforest. The people warm, friendly and hardworking.
Bayelsa is known for fishing and agriculture with some of the best seafoods the ocean can produce.
A State also known for sporting excellence, from Swimming to Boxing, Football and of course Wrestling. Bayelsa State has produced stars that has graced some of the grandest podiums in the world sport.
Samson Siasia, Duncan Dokiwari, Blessing Oborodudu and the legendary Daniel Igali just to mention but a few are all products of this beautiful State called Bayelsa, but then there is a silent revolution in Table tennis.
A sporting revolution spear-headed by a young, visionary and ambitious sports Administrator; Ama-Ebi Ebikpolade.
His love for Table tennis is mind-blowing and he is putting his money where his mouth is.
“Besides my wife and family, table tennis is the love of my life” he said.
Sunrisetimes.com.ng and Sportsgalore.com.ng caught up with this young philanthropist and administrator who also double as the Chairman of Bayelsa State Table –tennis Association for a chat.
In this exclusive interview, Ama-Ebi Ebikpolade shared his love, passion, vision and plans for Table tennis in Bayelsa State and beyond in this question and answer session;
Q: May we know you officially and your position/designation in Bayelsa State sport?
A: Firstly, I need to thank you for the work you are doing and for this opportunity to discuss the beautiful game of table tennis in Bayelsa and Nigeria. My name is Ama-ebi Ebikpolade and I am the chairman of Bayelsa State Table Tennis Association. I am an Ijaw son from both Delta and Bayelsa states respectively. I am a computer science graduate from the great Niger Delta University (NDU) in Bayelsa State. I am a husband to my beautiful wife Helen Ebikpolade and we are blessed with a son Barak, who is four years old and a daughter Jemma, who is 3 years old. They are both going to be the best table tennis siblings like the world has never seen.
Q: We realize you have a keen interest in Table tennis and the development of the sports in the grassroots. What informed this interest?
A: Yes, you are correct. I now have an intense interest in table tennis. My recent commitment to the game all started when I needed a sport at my small backyard, I had to choose between Pool table and Table Tennis. I chose table tennis over pool table ONLY because of the health benefits of playing table tennis. As you know, table tennis is a fast-paced sport that can be a great way to get into better shape. You might be surprised at just how many calories you can burn off during a single game of table tennis.
As far as the developmental aspect goes, I must say it wasn’t planned. When I got my table installed it kind of attracted a lot of people and mostly the youths. From playing the game with kids I tend to interact with them and I realize they need support in all aspect of the game and sometimes in their personal lives. Like I mentioned earlier, I am a father and I want the best for my kids and it is difficult not to want the same success for other kids that comes around me.
It is vitally important that we pay attention to the kids because everything with regard to table tennis qualities is in their favour. It’s like having a brand-new computer system and you are tasked with installing the right software for a particular job. They have age on their side, speed, and they process information faster that adults! Bayelsa state has never been a table tennis state, so it’s difficult to find senior players that can compete at the top levels of the game. So it’s only natural that the development of the sport has to come from the grassroots and it’s where our focus is at this time.
Q: We also know you are constructing a world class, first of its kind in Nigeria and a State-of-the-art Table tennis Lounge in Yenagoa, tell us more about the project?
A: The project was never on my mind until our All-Stars club (which I am a member) was kicked out of the rented space we were using for the game. We arranged for a meeting and we tried to raise money for the rent and it was at that moment the thought of having a private table tennis lounge was conceived.
I had already secured the land for another purpose that is still very special to me but because of the addictive nature of table tennis, I decided to make the table tennis lounge a priority. The project size is between 400 – 450 square meters, it will take 5 tables, it has a general gallery and a VIP gallery with a total capacity of about 300 spectators, it has restaurant, reception area, lounge, changing room, shower, toilets (for both male and female), board room, table tennis equipment shop, umpire’s room and the chairman’s office.
From my observation, I think it’s quite unfortunate that table tennis as a sport, is deliberately undermined in most parts of the world. Organizers always hosts tournaments on make-shift venues. I have never come across a project that is dedicated strictly to table tennis just as you would find football stadium, Basketball court, Squash, volley ball court, lawn tennis court etc. We always play our tournaments either in a basketball court or some multi-purpose hall.
I hope our table tennis lounge in Yenagoa will open the way for other stakeholders to understand that we need to show respect and love for the game by building from the ground, a purposeful table tennis center. The time has come for table tennis to also be played and enjoyed in a serene environment. This will surely make the game attract kids from the “wealthy” homes and give our kids from the average and poor homes the opportunity to be friends and play mates with the kids from higher class of our society.
Q: What is your vision for Table tennis in Bayelsa state?
A: My vision for table tennis in Bayelsa State is very simple. I want our kids to be engaged in table tennis because we will look for the most convenient way to marry education with the sport. Table tennis brings happiness; it’s easy for kids to excel in their school work when they are happy. I plan to register a table tennis club “Coastal Fortress Table Tennis Club” that will be the platform for our kids to set the pace. We want our kids to be ambitious and to be exposed in a very positive way. The club will partner with the best clubs in Europe and Asia so that we can have access to top class coaches, equipment and player exchange and transfers. It will be another genuine and purposeful avenue for job creation for our people.
Q: How much support are you getting from the government and governor of Bayelsa state in realising this vision for table tennis knowing well that table tennis is not as popular as football and wrestling in Bayelsa State?
A: I know the government has a very big role to play in our table tennis development and I can’t wait for this. At this moment, I think it is important that I state that I have the attention of my director of sport Sir. Braveman Wodi and my honourable commissioner for sports, Hon. Daniel Igali. I personally thought it would be a good idea for me to finish my project before I call for the partnership of the state government. I can promise you that in no time, Bayelsa state will adopt table tennis as the number one sport of the state because there is no other sport that can guarantee the proper upbringing of our kids than table tennis.
Q: Samuel Boboye, runners up 2021 National Principal’s Cup, one of your proteges and a fast-rising national junior player has been enjoying a lot of support and exposure lately thanks to your kind gesture. Tell us, is it about only Samuel Boboye or you have other junior talents you are grooming for your state and Nigeria in general?
A: Wow! Samuel Boboye, what a talent! You failed to mention that Samuel Boboye is the present NTTF cadet champion of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You also failed to mention that Samuel Boboye is the present NTTF number 2 player (Even though he beat the champion Mati Taiwo 3-1 at the quarter finals group stage of the tournament) of the federal republic of Nigeria. Samuel Boboye is the most improved table tennis player in Nigeria as at this very moment.
I also have Mathew John, who is a very brilliant player (unfortunately he was knocked out by his team mate Samuel Boboye in the 2021 NTTF Cadet semi-final), Isaac Boye, Nico and Blesssing. They are all under 15 players, you will surely hear all these names in no time.
Q; With your vision and developmental strides in table table, can we say Bayelsa state will conveniently compete with the likes of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, and Kwara States in the next 5 years?
A: With the opening of our Table Tennis lounge and with the facilities that will be made available, we will surely be on top of every other state in Nigeria. I know my state is bigger than just one player but I must say Samuel Boboye is already on the same level with the best players in Nigeria. It is our plan to make Bayelsa state a top table tennis state. And we are on the right track because as I speak the 2021 NTTF cadet cup is resting in my director’s office and we shall build on that because we have a young team.
Q: Bayelsa State came 3rd in the last National Sports Festival in Benin City behind Delta State and Edo state respectively, what should we expect from Bayelsa come Delta 2022?
A:Congratulation! To Bayelsa State for securing the 3rd position in the Edo 2020 sports festival. Our Governor Senator Diri, is a sport enthusiast and I know he will provide the necessary support for Team Bayelsa.
We have a very intelligent and committed commissioner of sport in Hon. Igali and I am confident that he will make some adjustments to take us higher in Delta.
Q: On a lighter note, if you are not discovering talents or striving to make table tennis grow, how do you relax?
A: Besides my beautiful wife and family, Table Tennis is the love of my life. I watch and play table tennis for relaxation. Table Tennis is my life and I thank my family for understanding and accepting this addictive sport in my life.