Veteran table tennis star Funke Oshonaike made some shocking revelations about her life recently on the social media. The 42-year-old sheds light on her struggles in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA
Recently you posted on Facebook about your challenges in life and your resolve not to quit despite the odds. What has kept you going?
I was very sad recently in Kenya (African Top 16 championship) about the (sports) ministry’s lack of support for table tennis in Nigeria. I was not happy that the ministry dropped the female team from going to the 2018 Commonwealth Games. I allowed it and some other factors to affect me in Kenya and I lost in the quarter-finals; I came fifth for the very first time. After the competition, I started receiving messages from some table tennis players and friends on Facebook. They said me and Segun (Toriola) are the ones hindering the growth of table tennis in Nigeria because we’ve not retired. They were so much on my case and I was actually thinking of giving up. After three days of locking myself up at home without communicating with anybody, I decided to fight them back by telling the world very little about me; just to let them know that I’m stronger than these people because my life is my decision. My motivation is that I still love what I’m doing and I’m still good with what I’m doing despite the lack of encouragement from Nigeria. But my family is supporting me 100 per cent.
In other parts of the world, experienced players like you and Segun are supposed to help build younger players up. Apart from Aruna Quadri, do you think other players have attained the level expected of them?
Some Nigerians don’t know that I’m doing my best and that’s why I have the Funke Oshonaike Foundation. I did a clinic/competition for our talents in Nigeria last year. Honestly, we have a lot of good players. We have many Arunas but they are wasting away because of lack of competition or the usual lack of funds story. There’s Jide Omotayo that’s trying hard to be like Aruna but he’s spending his own money at a young age like that to go for most tours. I don’t know how long he can do that without the support of Nigeria or sponsors. God has been good to me through it all. What’s happening now is beyond me. Nothing works and I just hope sports will not die permanently in Nigeria. I hope it can be the way it’s used to be. We were not all rich in the past but happy somehow and contented.
If fellow table tennis players say you and Segun are the game’s problem, then there’s perhaps an issue amongst the players. Is there jealousy amongst players?
I believe those players are being pushed by some officials who think we’re better than them (officials). We know the right things because we’ve been there for a long time. The other players are frustrated and believe we should be able to help them and some don’t know where to vent their anger. The problem is that nothing is working and players are very sad. They can’t be jealous of me and Segun; we are their mother and father. They should do well and pray to get to where we’ve gotten today. Most of them are just frustrated.
A shocking revelation from you is that the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation hasn’t rewarded you for a long time despite your sacrifices for the country. What’s your relationship with the NTTF?
I don’t have any problem with the NTTF. (Enitan) Oshodi helped me when he was the president. He believed so much in me and that brought out the best in me. He wanted to do more but he spent too much of his personal money. As for allowances, we only collect allowances during games. Before and after games, there are no allowances because we don’t even get funds before going for competitions. Nigeria has not rewarded us, not to talk of NTTF.
A major issue that’s got people talking is your revelation about being sexually abused by a man 10 years older than you while growing up. How did it actually happen?
I went through a lot with men in Nigeria while growing up. There was so much temptation. But I’m sorry I can’t say any of these now because I’m planning of writing my autobiography. People will read more untold stories from there. I’ve got a lot to tell about my growing up that will be difficult for some people to believe.
How did you feel at age 13 seeing the crowd trying to stab you after beating Biola Odumosu?
I cried a lot as a young girl. I felt people hated me. I always played against my opponent and crowd during competitions back then. Thank God my dad stood by me through it all. He supported me 101 per cent. The stabbing situation affected me a lot; I had nightmares because of it for a long time.
You caught your boyfriend in bed with another girl on the eve of the 2000 Olympics and had your fiancé shot to death three months to your wedding. How did you survive all these trying times?
I cried my heart out. I cried all the way from Nigeria to Adelaide for the training tour before heading to Sydney. It was like a dream to me. I was training and nobody saw my aches. I normally cried myself to sleep but God healed me. I don’t keep friends, my fiancé back then was my all here in Germany. So, losing him in Nigeria almost took my life away. I even wanted to kill myself, so I could join him! But thank God that my parents were in contact with me every day. I hated Nigeria so much for that and I stopped going there for holidays. I ran to the US for holidays but it didn’t change anything. But time they say heals everything. I still think about him sometimes though. He was truly my best friend.
You once played competitively with a seven-month pregnancy, which was dangerous…
(Cuts in) It was not dangerous at all, as long as your doctor says it’s safe to do so. I was thinking like that before I came to Europe but seeing my club mates doing it encouraged me to do the same.
What’s changed between when you started representing Nigeria at 14 and now?
Back then, all the state commissions were working. We had four good coaches in Lagos State then. Now, we don’t even have one. All the coaches in different states were very good and ready to give their best. The National Stadium, Lagos, was only for the best athletes but now every Dick and Harry goes there. We were having competitions almost every month but now we hardly have two in a year. There were primary and secondary school competitions in Lagos and other parts of the country. We were given awards for winning medals, now none. We were in camp for almost a year for the African games or the Olympics, now we are hardly in camp for a month. We go for all international competitions with funds available and the only thing we had to think about was to play well but now we worry about funds and allowances and we are unable to give our best. In fact, I’m sad right now.
Do you have any regrets playing for Nigeria?
No. I enjoyed the good side of it while growing up.
You’ve been in Germany for a long time now. Have you been racially abused there?
I did but it’s better than the tribalism we have in Nigeria.
What was your encounter with racists?
I was making a phone call in a shop one day trying to get sunglasses. Then this man just came to me and said I should go back to my country, saying I was not wanted here. I was shocked and after counting one to 10, I told him to go to another world because he’s not of this world. All the customers in the shop looked at me and smiled So, I threw his hatred back at him.
What’s your advice to athletes facing similar conditions like you in their careers?
They should not give up, but follow their dreams.
What are your most exciting and worst moments in the sport?
My most exciting time was when I won four gold medals for Nigeria at the 2003 All Africa Games with my child only six months old, and also winning the Africa championship in 2016. I don’t have any worst moments. Perhaps it’s now that Nigeria is not taking the female table tennis players to the Commonwealth Games.
What does attending six Olympics mean to you?
It means a lot to me but the seventh will be the best because I will be the only African woman to have done that.
Would you encourage your kids to represent Nigeria after what you passed through?
I won’t allow my kids to represent Nigeria of today. But if they want to, I won’t stop them.