Table Tennis rarely comes in the mind of many Kenyans when major sports are mentioned.
In fact, it won’t be easy for any sports enthusiast to name more than five table tennis players from Kenya.
Compare that to China where the reigning Olympic champion Ma Long receives rock-star treatment from his fans, who travel all over the country and the world to cheer him on at tournaments. Or just have their autographs signed by the star.
Josiah Wandera, a 28-year-old Kenyan computer scientist, is, however, eager to take the ping pong game to another level, locally.
He may not hit Ma Long’s heights, but he believes his exploits locally and internationally will one day make table tennis a popular game in Kenya.
- READ MORE
- Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, to race for Haas F1 in 2021
- French driver leaves Bahrain hospital after fireball crash
- Sir Alex Ferguson perfectly sums up why Mourinho failed at Man Utd
- Qatar to inaugurate fourth World Cup stadium on December 18
- E-Sports: Loveday wins FIFA20 and Sh100,000 during Virtual Games HQ awards
- Manchester United vs PSG predicted lineups
Wandera was in the Kenya team at the Africa Olympic qualifiers at the Olympique de Rades multipurpose gymnasium in Tunis earlier in the year. While none of the Kenyan players made it to the Tokyo Olympic games, he believes they came back with a lot of lessons learned.
“We are not there yet, even in Africa, but the gap between us and the leading stars in the continent is not that wide,” said Wandera.
“The standard of the game at continental level is honestly way above what Kenya has to offer at the present, but again as the old Chinese adage goes; a thousand miles journey will always start with a single step. At least we are making good progress in Kenya.”
Wandera has already made a name for himself in the East African circuits, he is the reigning Zambia Chinese Ambassadors Cup Champion and the Jinja Open winner last year, but says his focus is to become a world-beater one day.
“It reaches a time in one’s career when you feel you need a fresh impetus to your sporting career. My target is to excel a lot more at the International level because I feel there is nothing left for me to prove at a regional level,” he says.
“I have won many local events and taking it outside the country would be a great pleasure.”
Failing to qualify to the Tokyo Olympics, which has now been postponed to 2021 due to the Coronavirus, may have dented that ambition, but he says it has only given him more impetus to work harder to get better.
“The biggest problem we have is Table Tennis is not yet considered a professional sport in this side of the world.”
“In fact in Kenya, out of every ten sports personalities you meet, you will be very lucky to get one Table Tennis player,” he says.
“For the sport to grow, we need more equipment in schools, churches where the youth gather in the afternoons and evenings to play and even estate social halls.”
The Kenya Table Tennis Federation has over the last three years engaged in a campaign to popularise the sport in the counties, which Wandera says is creating positive responses.
“It was time the government came in to help KTTF bring into the country more equipment.
“I started playing Table Tennis while in secondary school. You can imagine if I knew of the sport at a younger age, probably I would today be an African champion,” he said.
Wandera has had to balance his time between training, playing and developing his career as a computer scientist.
“There were times when I felt I inclined more towards table tennis than school life, trying to take the easy way out. Don’t get me wrong; table tennis is not easy but it is fun so naturally my mind kept telling me to go play table tennis. But in the end you just have to face the truth. And the truth here was that education is more important.”
“My computer science bit is as demanding as knocking balls on the table. It entails networking, programming and software development,” Wandera said.
“Recently, I have developed a keen interest in reading psychology books to deliberately sharpen my way of thinking and to try to be logical. This has immensely improved the way I interact. I have since realised I was an introvert.”
Wandera recently got an internship at a local NGO called Twaweza East Africa.
“Our work is towards governance. Ensuring citizens participate in policymaking, their voices heard by those who make decisions affecting them and for our governments to be more accountable.”
This has itself come with more pressure on him to manage his work schedule and playtime.
“Of course in a scenario where you have to pick between what places food on the table and the playing on another table, common sense dictates that my job comes first. But then again, for me to be active at work, I will need to play to maintain physical and mental strength.”
Wandera graduated from University of Nairobi with a Computer Science bachelor’s degree, but it is at Musingu High School that he got introduced to the sport.
Musingu is known for its prowess in football and rugby, but Wandera says he got initiated to table tennis by a fellow student who had played for Kenya while still in school.
Wandera, who trains at City Table Tennis Club at the City Stadium in Nairobi says for the game to grow in Kenya there is need to have a clear structure running from the management way down to the players.”
“It’s not easy to set up this system but unfortunately, it’s the only way out. And we need this quick, probably some sort of spontaneous solidarity.”
KTTF president Andrew Mudibo says the federation is focused on developing the sport at the county level to raise new stars.
“While we continue seeking for corporate partnerships, we have also worked with our partners abroad to build our capacity in terms of getting equipment and technical development and we are seeing the fruits coming out of this effort,” Mudibo said.
“The most important thing is youth development and that is where we are now focused on. We are using senior and experienced players like Wandera to nurture young talent,” he said.