Fr. Paul Arinze, International Tennis Umpire
Dear reader, in our last edition, we made an introduction of this rare gem, Rev. Fr. Paul Ugo Arinze, who is currently making waves in the world. He was born into the family of 8 and he occupies the 6th position. His major inspiration was from his dad who died in 2006. I hope you find this online interview I made with him interesting.
Please may we know you?
I am Very Rev. Paul Ugo Arinze. A priest of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, USA. My family is originally from Ebenebe, Awka North L.G.A in Anambra State. I was born on 12th of December, 1972. I did my Philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, graduated in 1995 and the same year joined the Diocese of Madison. I did my graduate studies in Theology at the University of St. Mary’s of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois, USA. I was ordained a priest on May 28, 1999 in Madison Wisconsin. Since Ordination, I have been pastor at several parishes, Vocations Director for the Diocese, and I am currently the Pastor of St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church, Janesville Wisconsin. I am also a member of the Diocesan Presbyterian Council and Board of Consultors.
Can you share some of your sports experiences with us?
I love sports in general. I love watching sports on TV or attending sporting events. I started loving tennis because that was the sports my dad played. I was fully engaged in sports during my high school, and at Bigard. I competed for the KSJ cadet games in those days when I was still in Nigeria.
How do you cope with the priestly ministry and your sports life?
First and foremost, I am a Catholic priest. My priestly ministry comes first above all sports. What I do is to use some of my free time and vacation time to pursue my hobbies. That means that there are certain times of the year that I am not available to do tennis and that’s fine. In life, it’s all about creating a healthy balance and knowing where the priority should be given at any moment in time.
As a world class umpire in tennis, what are the first steps involved in becoming successful?
I would say, not being afraid to fail, watching other officials, and being open to be trained and to receive constructive criticisms. Knowing the rules and the procedures of tennis are very important components of becoming a successful umpire.
What inspired you to move into sports?
The drive for competition. I love to compete and had always enjoyed the discipline that sports gives to athletes.
What pushed your interest to choosing tennis over other sports?
It was the sports that my dad played and I loved the idea of being alone on one side of the net and taking care of business.
How much do you enjoy this sport?
I enjoy sports a lot. When I do have free time, I watch sports on TV and not just tennis. I watch football, volleyball, track and field, basketball, etc. I am a big fan of FC Bayern Munchen.
Please tell us much about this sport and the essential qualities needed for this position you have attained as a world class umpire?
It takes a while to become an International Umpire or Line Umpire. At the initial stages, you receive basic training on the rules of tennis and how to call a line or officiate a match. In my case, I started with High School tennis events. Eventually, I was certified after training to do University Tennis events. From there, I was recommended to attend ITF (International Tennis Federation) which Badge School that was held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007. I was successful at the school and received my White Badge. That allowed me to officiate at lower professional tennis events. Then after a year or so, I was recommended to attend the ITF Bronze Badge Officiating School that was held in New York City. At the successful conclusion of that school, I received my Bronze Badge, which made me an International Tennis Chair umpire, certified to work ITF, ATP, and WTA events anywhere in the world.
What do you like least about being an Umpire/referee?
During your sports life, were you ever discouraged by people?
Not really, I live in a culture where you are encouraged to reach your goals and excellence is rewarded. I have received a lot of support during the course of my years as a Professional Tennis Umpire.
Where do you see yourself in a few years to come in your tennis world?
I have been blessed to have done all the major tennis events in the world. I have worked as on umpire at four Grand Slams namely: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open. Most of these I’ve done multiple times. I also officiated at the Paralympics of the London Olympics and that Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. So, you get the picture of how blessed I have been. In the future, I hope to continue to do my best and see what the future holds
Can you share some of your secrets to success?
Hard work and Perseverance. No one gives you anything you don’t deserve or earn. I have to apply to these events and my application is weighed against the best in the world and at the end, a few are selected and a lot of officials never made the cut.
How well do you tolerate attitude of players and fans?
It comes with the experience. You must have thick skin and not be overly too sensitive. You have the rules to apply if someone crosses the line. By not being overly sensitive, that means that you allow the players some room within to express their frustrations within bounds, and not take everything they say personally. You need to stay calm and in control at all times.
What do you like the least about being an umpire/referee?
You are the thrust at the centre of the match. You see the best athletes in the sports compete at the highest levels. You are a part of it all, yet you don’t want to be the story of the match.
Can you share some of your fulfilling moments so far?
Working at the Summer Olympics in Rio, 2016 was the apogee of my officiating career. Being there for the opening ceremonies live and being a part of the Olympic movement was awesome. Second to that was being the Chair Umpire for the Boys’ singles finals at the 2010 US. Open.
Can you share some of your challenging moments so far?
Like everything you do in life, there are times when you make mistakes and you have to be humble to learn from them and move on.
What has been the most difficult decision you have made as a referee?
Sorry, but I am not at liberty to say that at this time since I am still an active umpire.
As an experienced hand in Sports, how do you think Nigeria’s tennis world could be better?
I think this is a very good question. First and foremost, they have to make tennis accessible to the people. You see a lot of public football fields; how many public tennis courts are there? If you want to see more Nigerians play tennis and compete at the highest levels, they need to be able to play the sport when they are in elementary school. Someone must make sure the equipment needed are provided and a coach is there to teach the proper techniques.
Also, as an experienced hand, how can we make the most of your wealth of experience?
I can be of help by helping the Nigerian Tennis Federation develop their officiating and have more Nigerians be a part of the International officials that officiate at the highest levels. However, I have never been asked.
If you were called/Invited by the Nigeria government to help young talented tennis players, what would be your decision?
First, I want to clarify that I am not a certified tennis coach. What I do is tennis officiating and if the Nigerian Government wants help in that regard, I could see a scenario where I could be of great help in developing quality officials for the country.
Tennis involves so much communication skills and eye movements, how would you rate your communication skills and eye sight while officiating?
Part of being a good umpire is having a natural or corrected 20/20 vision. In addition to that, being able to communicate with the players effectively goes a long to keeping the match flowing. Being a priest helps a lot with listening and communicating and not getting too excited when things are heating up. As an International Umpire, I am required every year to do an eye test to make sure my vision is good for umpiring. We sent the Optometrist report each November to ITF office in London. On the issue of communication, we learn that by watching other officials and how they communicate with players in tough situations. Also, when we are assigned a coach, he or she helps us where they see the need.
How well do you handle stressful and conflict situations while officiating?
Stay calm and know what the issues are and address them accordingly. You must trust your training and use all the tools available to handle different situations. You must have confidence in your training and yourself.
What are your favorite meals?
I love Italian cuisines. Having travelled extensively, I also enjoy Indian cuisine, and Korean food. Locally, I love vegetable soup, yam, and Nigerian moi-moi.
What are your favourite colours
Turquois, Red, and purple
Thank you sir.