Akinfenwa: Squash Gives Me a Kick

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For 11 unbroken years, Shina Akinfenwa’s Cargolux Merchant Express Ltd has bankrolled a national squash tournament among all recreational clubs in Nigeria and has now included under aged male and female categories to deepen interest in the sport among younger folks. In this chat, the retired airline pilot reminisces on the growth of the tournament from a three-club affair to its present 16-club format and as well his aspirations for it to become a hunting ground for future stars

For the purpose of the records, let’s get to know you.
My name is Shina Akinfenwa. I’m an airline pilot, a retired airline pilot, now managing director of Cargolux Merchant Express Ltd. I’m just one simple guy taking life easy. I have a passion for squash and for my friends.

What has been the motivation behind sponsoring the annual Cargolux Merchant Express Squash Tournament?
The main motivation is to give back to the society, to help and encourage young players to play squash.

As a recreation, I have found a lot of reward playing the sport for upwards of three decades now and still playing very actively. And I am very fit. And that is the message. For folks to see active, regular engagement in squash as something to embrace in order to keep fit and healthy even as we grow old. And for the young ones to imbibe the habit, we have since included the U-15 and U-19 boys and girls categories. Last year, no less than 150 of them converged on the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja for five days playing squash. That is what we want and are ever happy to do. So, it’s more to do with giving back to the society, and encouraging the game of squash.

And for the 11th year running?
And why not? When you find joy in doing something, you just find yourself continuing like forever. Sponsoring this Tournament has been one worthy venture we at Cargolux continue to thank our stars. When we started 11 years ago, truly we didn’t know we would be here today as sponsors of clearly the most popular and prestigious squash Tournament in the land and our company is proud its name is associated with it.

Why squash, to start with?
Squash, is easily the most exciting sporting activity you can have. All the others are very dull.
I’m sure there are people who may not agree with that assertion.
Well… That is my personal opinion borne from my experience playing the game for such a long time.
After 10 years of organising this tournament, what has been the challenges and the impact as well?
The organisers are usually the squash section of the Lagos Country Club headed by the chairman.

They are the organisers, we are just sponsors. I cannot say much about the challenges because even if there were challenges, they did not make them known to me, which means that whatever challenges may have come up, were attended to professionally but over the years, I found the organisers have made a lot of improvements evidenced by the massive enhancements in the Tournament’s equity that we have witnessed over the years. And this has rubbed off well on our company’s image as well.

In terms of acceptance, how has the annual Cargolux Merchant Express Squash tournament helped to make the sport more widely known amongst Nigerians?

It is obvious. When we started 11 years ago, we had only three clubs participating, now we have between13 and sometime in the past up to16 clubs. We have introduced the U-16 and U-19, the professional league, the classic and so many others. Right now, all squash players in the country attend the Cargolux Merchant Express Squash tournament.

This is the 11th edition. It’s been a very long road and there are other sports out there that will look at the tournament and admire it while wondering how you’ve managed to sustain the tempo considering it’s not a sport like football. With this in mind, would there be any new features this year?

Like I told you, we are introducing the junior players, the U-16 and U-19, the classic which is the professionals, apart from the regular players. So it’s actually expanding. In Nigeria today, the junior players of about 10 years ago have advanced to become professional players today. With this kind of encouragement and exposure that we are giving them, they are being ranked globally in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) League, and some of them are now recognized globally. We are actually making progress.

Squash is competing with other more popular sports now. What will you say to those who have picked interest in it, and those who don’t know what it’s all about? What advice will you give them?

I will encourage them to come around. There were 5, 6 year olds who played in our U-9 category here about three years ago. We had a squash clinic here. They came and were introduced and they have evolved. We run an open house here Monday to Saturday. They can come around. Even parents who have children who are interested can bring them around. We encourage them. I encourage my kids to play.

Is there hope for people who didn’t start the game early, people in their thirties and forties?
Yes there is. Anyone can play, but will be broken in gradually. Anyone can play, so long as you are physically fit and don’t have a medical encumbrance.

Any plans to take this competition international, and invite foreign squash players to compete?
We tried that in the past. At this point, we do not want to compete with NSRA. We are just doing our own thing. This is not a government thing, it’s purely a private initiative. If we want to invite foreign players, then we will have to go through the NSRA, unless of course the players are coming on their own privately. But at this moment, we want to consolidate on our games internally. Like they say, charity begins at home.

What’s your final word as the 11th edition of this Tournament serves off?
My final word is it’s an open house and everybody is welcome to enjoy good squash for one week. It’s going to be a jamboree.