For 24-year-old Emmanuel Gboyah, table tennis has been his passion as a teenager while at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone but through a wildcard, he made his international debut at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India. However the electrical electronics graduate of Freetown-based Milton Margia College of Education, Science and Technology is worried with the fortune of table tennis in the West African region but lately his interest in the sport has been ignited following the singular efforts of the President of Sierra Leone Table Tennis Association, Alie Lakish.

As a debutant in the 2016 ITTF Africa Senior Championships, Emmanuel Gboyah is impressed with the growth of table tennis in Africa but his lamentation stemmed from the fact that his country is far behind in the sport.

“I love table tennis and it is my passion. In my family, we play football but I decided to embrace table tennis because it is my life. When I started playing the game in my secondary school, we used to play on concrete floor and later I suggested to my teacher that we can contract a carpenter to make a wooden table for us which we did and since then, I have taken much interest in the sport. In Sierra Leone, most people play table tennis as a pleasure during their leisure period and this has not really helped the sport. Since the assumption of office of the new president on table tennis, the sport has starting getting a new lease of life,” Gboyah said.

Apart from the dominance of football that has overshadowed sports like table tennis in Sierra Leone, Gboyah is hopeful that with more support from ITTF and ITTF Africa in terms of equipment, the game can win more disciples. “I can tell you categorically that apart from the low patronage that the sport has, getting the equipment is another major issue because for us to get rubber and racket, we most time orders from Germany because there is no sports shop in Sierra Leone dealing on table tennis equipment. But we most times make do with the used equipment we get from friends who must have travelled to Freetown,” the Sierra Leone national champion said.

Giving a graphical picture of what table tennis is in Sierra Leone, the Secretary General of Sierra Leone Table Tennis Association, Emmanuel Lebbie said as a voluntary member of the association to over support of football by government has affected the fortune of other sports particularly table tennis.

“In Sierra Leone, football is government’s baby and since I have assumed office as secretary of the association, we have never had any support from government and with the new president of the association, things have started to take shape and we are hoping that the new Minister of Sports, Ahmed Khonou who took office five months ago has given us hope that things would change for better. In Sierra Leone, we train at the National Stadium in Freetown as well as in Bo, which is another stadium based in the Southern part of the country. But I can tell you categorically that lack of equipment has been a major problem for us. For now, we are still using some of the old players because we don’t have the platform to groom new players. But with the planned new sports structure, I believe things will change,” Lebbie said.

Lebbie who led the four-man Sierra Leonean team to the ongoing ITTF Africa said their bills of $1850 per person was bankrolled by the president of the association which he said he been commendable as most of the players have never the chance to feature in such tournament.

“For now we have over 90 active table tennis players in Sierra Leone and it is not that we cannot have more than that but the equipment are not just there for us to train the players. We are also hoping that with the planned Olympic Solidary Training put together by ITTF, we can have one-month intensive training to unearth talents in the sport. I am also using this opportunity to appeal to ITTF to support us in Sierra Leone so that we can produce more players and match some of the best playing nations in Africa,” he said.

Lebbie, who was the last Rio Paralympic Games in Brazil, believes the performance of Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri has indeed lifted the popularity of the sport in Africa, adding that media in Sierra Leone now show interest in covering the sport.