Budding Rwandese tennis player Ibonga meets his Nigerian idol, Aruna, in Kigali

How far would you go to meet your sports idol in person, who is visiting your country to play a game? A Rwandan table tennis youngster shares his experience

As African Olympic Qualifiers for table tennis get underway in Kigali, it was a “dream-come-true” moment for 12-year-old Ibonga Shukuru, who met his table tennis idol, Nigeria’s Aruna Quadri.

Shukuru who is Rwanda’s national tennis cadet champion has detailed to Sports Network Africa news (SPNA) how he went great lengths, including a four hour road journey to the capital, Kigali, to meet Aruna.

Aruna Quadri

Upon learning that Aruna would be in Kigali for the Africa Cup and the African Olympic Qualifiers for four days from May 15, 2024, Shukuru embarked on  plans to meet a superstar of the game who inspired him to take up table tennis.

Rwanda is hosting the ITTF Africa Cup for the first time alongside an Olympic qualifiers tournament bringing together 50 table tennis athletes who are vying for 6 spots at the upcoming Paris Olympics in July.

Ibonga Shukuru

The young tennis player resides with his mother in Rubavu District, one of the seven districts in the Western Province of Rwanda. He mentioned that, due to his age and the logistical challenges of staying in the city, he knew his mother wouldn’t allow him to travel to Kigali.

Determination they say, determines a determined determiner. He was determined to meet his idol, and with hope driving him, he went to the bus station, and luckily met a bus driver who agreed to waive fare for him. In Kigali, he got a free motor bike ride  to the BK Arena..

“That is how I found myself in Kigali to see Aruna,” Shukuru said, beaming with a smile.

The youngster started playing table tennis at seven. He has since established himself as an integral member of the Ubumwe Table Tennis Club, the Rwanda national club champion. He is unbeaten at cadet level in the country, with his inspiration coming from hours of watching Aruna in action, albeit on YouTube.

“Watching Aruna on Youtube made me like him as a player and as an individual. When I read his humble beginning story, I was also motivated to emulate him. He started small, and now he is a big player in the world. Humility is always written all over his face when he is playing. I was determined to meet him, and fortunately for me, I met him in Kigali,” Shukuru narrated.

The hustle he went through to meet Aruna was not in vain, as the world number 19 did not leave him empty handed gifting him his Africa Cup final match-winning bat.

“I was so excited when Aruna gave me the bat he used in the final. This is a big motivation for me to work harder and emulate an African champion like him. I am indeed happy that my efforts were not wasted, despite the fact that I will miss school this week,” Shukuru added.

Ibonga Shukuru

Shukuru’s courage landed him accommodation sponsorship from the Rwanda Table Tennis Federation (RTTF) while in Kigali.

According to RTTF Secretary-General Alexis Nutebutsi confidently Shukuru epitomizes the future of table tennis in Rwanda.

“We were touched when we heard his story that he had to travel four hours to come to Kigali to meet Aruna. We decided to accommodate and feed him during his one-week stay in Kigali. We plan to assist him with transport when he is going back home. He is the future of table tennis in Rwanda, and we want to support him with the hope that he will be exposed to top-class training. We were touched by his determination to travel from afar to see his idol.”

Going forward, and although he is keen on education and is determined to finish school, Shukuru said he would love to make a living from playing table tennis.

The curtain draws on the Olympics qualifier tournament on May 18.