Nigeria’s Yemisi Olatunji recently won the female title of the maiden Chamberlain Squash Open (CSO) Championship held at the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja. Our reporter, DARE KUTI had an exclusive chat with her after the dust had settled. Below is the transcript…
What was your reaction when you realised you’ve won the Chamberlain Squash Open tournament?
I felt very happy! I’m excited seeing myself winning the Chamberlain Squash Open from the first day of the tournament to the end of it was great. Apart from winning, seeing the faces of some of the old squash players was awesome.
Being Number One in Nigeria evidently is very long tedious process. Would you mind talking me through a little bit of your journey?
Hmm…that is a great question. I started playing when I was in secondary school in Ondo State (Akure) under the coaching of Coach Ojo Aina and Coach Sadiat Akande. Since then, I’ve being in squash line and I started playing under 19 with my first competition in 2008 being with Fembass.
I have lost some games and I have won some also. As you probably know, I moved straight to the Ladies Senior category from under 19.
In 2013 I made the national team after winning gold/bronze medals in Lagos 2012 Festival. In 2014 I become Lagos State Player (Number 1 female Lagos State player), while in 2016, I join the world professional players under PSA/WSA and I have been able to represent Nigeria so far in different tournaments.
Where are you shifting focus to right now in terms of future challenges and goals?
I am still on my professional tour seeing myself among the top female players in the world of squash. In terms of future challenges, making it to the top is not easy and even being stable at the top is not an easy task, so I need support of National Squash Federation (NSF), Federal Government, companies that want to see sports growing in Nigeria and squash enthusiastic to show their love and support for me and the rest of the players.
In terms of goals like have said earlier, I want to be among the top female players in the world by winning different titles and winning some many tournaments.
Tell me a childhood story you carry with you today.
There use to be a woman where I grew up, she is wealthy and she is one of the prominent women. She used to say this in her calender “wait for your time ” and that is one of my secret weapon in life. I’ve been waiting for my time.
I remember in 2012 festival when I was in the camp in preparation for the Eko 2012, I remember that we were done with the training for the day and one of our directors came and said “okay time for endurance test”. That means we have to run 400 metres five times within certain minutes. After the third time I started crying on the track. People were there watching me, laughing. After the fourth round, I pretended as if I had fainted and everybody was so scared and before I knew it, my squash mate were there pouring water on me.
In short I didn’t finish the last round but glory to God. On the long run, I won gold and bronze in the state festival (laughs).
Nigerians are worried that are not enough investors in the sports industry. How do you respond to this?
This is one of the sad time in sport in Nigeria which it should be looked into. Sports in general lack some many things like motivation, financial support, educational support in this part of the world, unlike other developed countries.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your career?
There are so many people involved if I start to mention names… but we’ll do it in group (laughs)…my sponsors, my coach, family and my fans across the world.
What are your expectations in terms of sports development in Nigeria?
I will say that I believe that sports will come to a point in Nigeria where everybody will not focus on football only. I look forward to the day when people will realise that there so many talented, inspirational, motivational and high earning sports in Nigeria than what they think both team and individual sport.
Talking about the educational aspect of it, sports needs to be encouraged in schools, starting from primary to the higher institutions. Sports help a lot when it comes to academic section.
The problem with sports in schools here is that many school administrators don’t see the importance of sports in schools. Some of them even think that sports people don’t have any business in schools or academics, unlike other developed countries where sports are encouraged in schools, irrespective of any level you are. I believe we will get there soon, though.
In terms of motivation, our Federal Government needs to look into all sports with the same view, not raising up one and letting down others. There must be a huge support for sports in general and the support must come from the federal government and other sports bodies to be able to produce world class athlete. This is how to maintain the gold talented athletes that this nation currently has and bring up new talents.
But I believe that sports in this country is going places.