The Annual Cargolux Inter-Club Squash Tournament which is in its 9th edition commenced on Monday, August 19 at the Squash Section of the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja.
In this interview with Capt. Sina Akinfenwa, Managing Director of Merchant Express Cargo Airlines, Sales and Services Agent of Cargolux Airlines in Nigeria, sponsors of the tournament, he explains the rationale behind the sponsorship of the tournament and other issues on the game of squash in Nigeria.
What informed your organisation’s decision to start sponsoring the tournament?
In the first place I am a squash enthusiast and a squash player. I have been playing squash for over thirty years. I love the sport. When we started the tournament nine years ago, we invited only three clubs but over the years it has grown to be nationally recognised. Many clubs now want to be part of it.
What informed our sponsorship was the need to encourage the sport, the game of squash at the youth, amateur and the professional levels. Also, we wanted to give something back to the society as part of our corporate social responsibility.
Why squash and not any other sport?
It is because I don’t play tennis or football. I play only squash. It is something I can understand and relate with easily rather than go into something I know very little about.
What will you say are the main objectives of the tournament?
The main objectives are number one, to promote the game of squash. Number two is to expose our youths to the game of squash and encourage them. Some of them may want to go professional. So, apart from playing to keep fit and healthy, in the future, some of them may want to go into professional squash playing.
This will keep them occupied and expose them locally and internationally. For the club member players category, that is, the amateur, it is to encourage more people to come and participate in the beautiful game of squash to keep us healthy.
Having successfully sponsored eight editions now, will you say the tournament objectives are being met?
Obviously, the objectives of the tournament are met at all times. Like I said we started with three clubs and now we have about fifteen clubs participating just after the 8th edition.
Many squash clubs in Nigeria want to participate. Our plan is that the 10th edition will be bigger than this because we want to expand the participation and make it national. We will have clubs from all over the country. I believe the objectives have been met.
From the list of clubs that are participating this year, we observed there are foreign clubs. What led to the inclusion of these clubs?
Cargolux is from Luxemberg. That is the home country of Cargolux. That is one of the reasons we are inviting players from Luxemberg. For Ghana, we have a very good working relationship with the country. In fact we have partner companies in Ghana. We interrelate in our air cargo business and they actually are interested in coming to participate.
Are we expecting such invitations to be extended to other countries in the nearest future to be part of the tournament?
Yes it is possible but before we do that, we would want to nationalise the tournament first so that we now have clubs from all over Nigeria participating. When we are able to do that, then we can invite more countries. As they say, charity begins at home.
We noticed that there is also the inclusion of the National Under 16 and National Under 19 in this year’s tournament. What are the reasons for the expansion of the categories?
We want to grow the game. There are some of us that have been playing this game for many years now and are getting close to our retirement. So we want to encourage the younger ones, the younger generation to embrace the game and be involved in it so that the squash family will continue to increase.
That was why we introduced the Under 16 category. Last year we had only Under 19. Now we are introducing the lower age category so as to catch them when they are young to play the game. The Under 16, Under 19 and the professionals which we call the Classic are part of this year’s tournament. The idea is to have everyone participate in the game of squash.
What is the role of Nigeria Squash Federation (NSF) in this tournament?
The Nigeria Squash Federation regulates and actually controls the game of squash in the country. The body is aware of what we do every year. We have its backing and it is fully involved in every edition of the tournament.
What will you say have been the challenges of the tournament so far?
I wouldn’t say we have had any challenge because everyone involved works round the clock to ensure a hitch-free tournament during each edition. From the sponsors to the organising committee, officials and the participants, we have always worked towards a common goal which is to develop the game.
What are your expectations for this year’s tournament?
This year’s tournament will be enthralling owing to the quality of participation. I expect an edition that will further set standard for subsequent tournaments as it has always been the case. I expect the nation to be treated to the very best of squash game. May the best player in each category win!
As a patron of Nigeria Squash Federation, what do you think can be done to further promote squash in Nigeria to the level other prominent sports such as football?
We need to organize more tournaments, particularly at the level of professional players. The more tournaments they participate in, the better their games become. We can have one big tournament every month at least for the professionals. With this, our professionals would be able to achieve world rating and compete favourably with their counterparts across the world. But to get to this stage, we need more corporate sponsorship.
From your own point of view, where do you see the game of squash Nigeria in the next five years?
I would say Nigerian squash in five years time would be at the international level where we have professional players ranked internationally. We have good professional players but what they lack is exposure. And this exposure can only be created by sponsorship.