Discordant tunes trail NBBF’s request for N2b to prepare, send teams to Japan
It is generally accepted that when it comes to basketball, the United States (U.S), Russia, Ukraine, Australia, Spain and France are the teams to beat in major international championships. U.S, home to the NBA and WNBA, which are the biggest inter-club competitions in the world, is the most successful country in the game, winning more Olympics medals than every other nation.
Australia, France, Ukraine, Russia, Argentina, Brazil and Greece are also the big teams in such competitions as the Olympics and FIBA World Cups.
In Africa, no country has mustered the quality in players and trainers to challenge Europe and Americas’ dominance of the game. And so, when pundits talk about the likely success stories at major competitions, African nations are not reckoned with. But that narrative is gradually changing with the steady climb up the ladder by Nigerian teams in the comity of basketball nations.
At the last women and men World Cup competitions in Spain and China respectively, Nigerian national teams, D’Tigress and D’Tigers, showed the world that the country is ready to rock the order of things.
At the Women World Cup in Spain in 2018, D’Tigress became the first African team to get to the quarterfinal of any FIBA global event, just as the men, D’Tigers, the following year wowed the world with their gusty displays and became the first team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Now, Nigeria is seen as one of the emerging nations in basketball capable of toppling the applecart in Japan. Nigeria’s current men and women teams are seen as medals contenders because of the calibre of players in their squads, as well as their recent successes within and outside Africa. Within their squads are tested players, who play in the best leagues, including the NBA and top European competitions.
However, while the world expects Nigeria to throw its weight at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the leadership of the country’s basketball is going through one of the nightmares any team at the verge of success will dread to have. There is no money to prepare the teams and send them to Tokyo.
The Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) recently disclosed that it would need about N2 billion to prepare and take the men and women teams to this year’s Olympics. The federation’s dilemma is that the players, due to their physiognomy, require special considerations in logistics and welfare.
According to the NBBF, the players are very tall persons, who need enough legroom and therefore must fly first class wherever they are going. There are more than 20 players in each of the teams’ training camps, who are expected to move round various countries, playing friendly games and getting their strategies together ahead of the Olympics.
At the end of the training period, each team will be made of 12 core players and two or three on standby. This means transportation alone will eat deep into whatever budget the federation prepares for the Games.
With the country’s football teams out of the Games, basketball faithful believe the Federal Ministry of Sports should channel more funds to basketball.
Defending the N2 million budget for the teams, NBBF Vice President, Babs Ogunade, said adequate funding would give D’Tigers and D’Tigress the opportunity to get the best preparations for the Olympics.
Ogunade said N2 billion would not be too much for the men and women teams’ preparations and participation in the Olympics. He said, “The NBA players have travelling requirements from their contracts, which gives them the right to fly on first class because of their physical structure and height.
“They are also meant to stay in quality hotels, which requires money. You cannot expose these players to poor standards when they can even afford better ones for themselves.
“The Olympics is not an inter-house sports competition. There must be quality preparations for the teams.”He dismissed questions on the propriety of spending N2 billion on the teams, saying, “People saying that the money is too much to take the men and women teams do not understand what it takes to take care of players.
“You should understand that the women are also taking part in the Olympics; so, how would people feel if we spend much on the men and on the ladies we don’t give them same standard.
“Don’t you feel this would bring friction in the team and also affect our preparations for the Olympics. The NBBF must give the women the same treatment their male counterparts get.”
Ogunade explained that FIBA rules allow coaches to invite as many players as possible during training camps to ensure teams have the required number of players even if the squad is hit by injury.
“This list is called master list. This is why the coaches invite many players to camp. We cannot also invite more coaches than stipulated in FIBA rules.
“The NBBF is seeking for funds and also enjoining corporate bodies and well-meaning Nigerians to also support the teams for the Olympics. Our desire is to stand on the podium in the Olympics.
“We are investing the money totally on the D’Tigers and D’Tigress to get the very best at all levels,” he added. Supporting Ogunade’s explanation on the national teams need for N2 million, veteran basketball journalist, Segun Ikuesan, said the amount is not enough compared to what Nigeria spends on the senior national football team, Super Eagles for preparation and participation in championships.
He said, “For me, the N2 billion is not enough for the D’Tigers and D’Tigress’ preparations for the Olympics. That sum of money was recently used to prosecute the Super Eagles’ AFCON qualifier against Sierra Leone home and away last year, and still, the team disappointed Nigerians.
“The cost of flight tickets and hotel bills are high because of the exchange rate. Also camping allowances for these players are high… paying for facilities to train requires money; so, I think all hands must be on deck to ensure the money is raised for the team.
“If excuses were not made for the Super Eagles’ expenditure, I wonder why they would not attend to the basketball teams. “The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, should prove to Nigerians now that he is not a minister of football by helping to get the government to provide the money for the basketball teams.”
Ikuesan said the NBBF had no business sourcing for funds to take the national teams to international competition. “The NFF does not go through too much stress to raise funds for the Super Eagles,” he said.
“D’Tigers and D’Tigress can get to the Olympics quarterfinals and even the medals zone if they are well prepared for the Games.
“All the teams slated for the Olympics have equal opportunities to win medals, but the difference would be on the level of preparation for the Games.”
Basketball stakeholder, Pius Ayinor, believes the N2 billion budget was influenced by the country’s current economic reality.
Ayinor said. “If you look at the current exchange rate, from dollar to naira, you will understand that the N2 billion budget for the Olympics preparations was done in dollars,” he said, adding, “As the NBBF are calculating their expenses, I know they will not calculate on the current exchange rate… they will add a little because the rate keeps rising daily.”
He advised the NBBF to cut from the budget and discuss with the players on the economic situation in the country. Ayinor added: “Even if some of these players were born abroad, they still understand the economic situation of the country. They should not compare themselves to American players.
“I don’t think the ministry will be able to give the team all the funds needed for the Olympics. The ministry can say they can afford money for two coaches, for example, where as in basketball, a team needs up to five coaches doing different jobs to get the best out of the team.
“The NBBF has to see how they can measure up on that aspect. The least NBA players can fly is business class, apart from first class… so, the NBBF needs to also speak with the players to fly on business class to reduce cost.
“They can also discuss on the standard of hotel they want the players to stay during camping for the Olympics, as well as deliberate on the allowances for the players. These players are Nigerians notwithstanding their foreign connections… they read news on the economic situation of the country.
“I feel the teams deserve the best for the Olympics, but people should see the N2 billion expenditure from the present economic reality in Nigeria.”He also predicted that the men and women teams would excel at the Olympics going by their current forms.
“The women are currently African champions and are rated high in the world because of their past achievements at the World Cup.
“The men also have many NBA players in their team. So, I believe Nigeria is presenting good teams in Japan. The only issue now is for NBBF to strive hard to get the funds because flight and hotel bills are expensive now. The ministry should help by releasing funds early to ensure the teams get the best preparations for the Olympics.”
He advised D’Tigers and D’Tigress to approach every game at the Olympics with determination and commitment to prove a point to the world.
NBBF board member, Col. Sam Ahmedu (rtd.), who is also President, FIBA Africa Zone 3, which comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, Togo and Liberia believes no effort should be spared to give the Nigerian teams the best preparations for the Games.
A member of African basketball’s highest decision-making organ, the FIBA Central Commission, as well as the adjudicatory chamber of world basketball, FIBA Legal Commission, Ahmedu told The Guardian that the players’ welfare has been top of NBBF agenda.
He said,“Getting to the apex of basketball in Africa and rolling with the best in the world never came by accident. It is a result of deliberate plans and heavy investments in camps, coaches and training.
“We hosted Africa in 2018 and 2019 during the qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, which Nigeria was the first team in the world to qualify for and it never came cheap.
“In the history of basketball in Nigeria, we spent quality time preparing for the 2017, 2019 FIBA Afrobaskets, as well as the FIBA World Cups in Spain and China, which was all about money.”
The retired officer of the Nigerian army said due to the state of Nigeria’s infrastructure, the federation had to think outside the box to put in place a system that works for all.
“We promised Nigerians that their players would be closer than ever before. Camps for major tournaments and hosting major continental tournaments will also take place in Nigeria so that the fans can see and also have a feel of these players who represent them on the international stage.”
Ahmedu confirmed that FIBA prescribes best quality infrastructure, and in the absence of quality facilities, the federation had to rent or buy standard equipment for these global stars and the qualifiers. He concluded that the board will not be distracted in ensuring that the game continues to grow, and enjoins all to positively contribute to this remarkable trend.
While some of the stakeholders believe the NBBF needs adequate funding to prepare and ensure the national teams excel in Tokyo, former D’Tigers’ captain, Olumide Oyedeji, said the N2 billion budget is not realistic.
The former NBA star described the federation as insensitive to the country’s current realities in the COVID-19 era. He advised the body to find ways of reducing the cost if it wants the Federal Government’s help in preparing and taking the teams to the Olympics.
“I don’t want to speak much on the N2 billion issue or make pronouncements because I don’t want to disrupt the teams’ preparations ahead of the Olympics.
“I was once a member of the D’Tigers and also a captain of the team, who played in the NBA, so I think I can say much on basketball in Nigeria.
“How can the NBBF invest N2 billion on the Olympics when our basketball in the domestic scene is nothing to write home about.
“There are better ways to manage resources that would make it easier for the NBBF to spend much less than N2 billion to execute the Olympics.
“The NBA players or foreign-based players in D’Tigers team are coming for national assignment and putting that at the back of their minds, the administration should get the players to make some sacrifices and understand the situation of the country.
“A basketball player, who is ready to represent his country, can give all his best and make sacrifices to make the nation proud. They are not coming for a jamboree. These players can fly business class instead of first class and also stay in not too exotic hotels to reduce expenses.”
Drawing from his experience in the national team, Oyedeji said, “In my days, I paid for my own flight ticket at times as part of my own sacrifice in the interest of the country.
“Also, it is quite unfortunate that the coaches will be inviting a large number of players, numbering up to 70, for screening ahead of the Olympics. This is another way to increase the financial burden on the NBBF. These players, both the men and women, will be camped in different hotels at different occasions. But flight tickets and camping allowances here and there for over 70 players, some of who will not be going for the Olympics, is not right.
“The coaches at this point of preparing for the games must have known the best players needed for the Olympics from the qualifiers. All they need to do now is to add a few new ones for screening. After one or two screening, some of the players would be dropped, leaving only the main players to blend well for the Olympics.
“Inviting 20 men and women for the Olympics screening is better than getting 70. When a coach invites more stars to a national team without using all of them regularly, it brings friction in the team, which at times may not be well managed by the coaches. So, to be on a safe side, the coach needs to invite just a few players he can work with and drop the ones he does not need after one or two camping sessions.”
Oyedeji also believes that cutting down on the number of coaches and officials going to the Olympics will also help the NBBF reduce the cost of participating in the Games.
“In the last qualifiers, I observed that a large number of coaches, mostly from overseas, accompanied the team to the various games. They were paid in dollars, just like the players. If this is replicated at the Olympics, it will amount to more expenditure for a country crying it doesn’t have enough money.
“I don’t have anything against anybody when it comes to basketball in Nigeria. I have paid my dues as a player and now a coach and basketball administrator working hard to train youths in the game and help them in their education.
“Please, I beg, the NBBF should not invest N2 billion on the Olympics. They should use part of the money to develop Nigerian basketball at the grassroots and domestic league levels. This is where I came out from and it is my passion to discover more talents here.”
Oyedeji reminds the NBBF that the country’s basketball has serious issues at home, which requires money to resolve, adding,
“Basketball is dead at the home front.
“With the best organisation, the men and women teams can excel at the Olympics, but not with N2 billion. We need part of the money to revamp the domestic scene in basketball.”
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