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Nigeria’s D’Tigress rule Africa basketball against the odds

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In its own right, the victory of the Nigeria women’s basketball team in Senegal is worthy of applause. However, as with most triumphs in Africa’s most populous country, the context of it makes it all the more remarkable.

Basketball does not enjoy the level of patronage or followership that football does, and while ordinarily, that need not be a problem, in Nigeria, it is a good enough justification for an entire sport to be relegated to the background entirely.

This means, not just a lack of attention and funding from the very administrators tasked with oversight, but also a disinterest from sponsors in the private sector.

In overcoming all of these disadvantages, however, D’Tigress (as the women’s national team is known), have shown resilience and grace that belied the circumstances in which they defended their FIBA Women’s AfroBasket title last week.

Leading up to the competition in Dakar, D’Tigress had minimal preparation, training for less than two weeks and doing so with no funding from the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) and the Ministry of Sports. On the eve of the tournament, NBBF Vice President Babs Ogunade admitted to Extra Sports Nigeria that it was “a battle to get the team going”, and there were legitimate concerns over flight logistics.

“There is no fund for now. We have never had it this challenging,” he lamented.

At the tournament itself, D’Tigress were excellent against the odds, posting dominant performances at every stage and winning every quarter through to the final, where they locked horns with hosts and record champions Senegal.

Facing reportedly the largest ever home crowd in African basketball history, and playing against a team whose preparation had far eclipsed their own (Senegal camped for two months, and played a number of friendlies in the build-up), Nigeria shone even brighter. In the face of brazen hostility – objects were apparently being hurled at the team’s bench unchecked during the game – Otis Hughley’s side came through to win by five points and claim a fourth title at continental level. In doing so, they also became the first side to retain their crown since Angola managed the feat in 2013.

In the wake of their success, congratulatory messages have been pouring in and many an ode to their grit has been written. Rightly so: D’Tigress are the only team unbeaten in Africa for two years, and they are a testament to the relentless will of the Nigerian spirit.

It seems unlikely, however, that a more holistic overview of their campaign, especially of the struggles that came before, will be undertaken, with a view to ensuring these issues do not repeat themselves.

It is a state of affairs that recently also threatened the involvement of the men’s team at the World Cup slated to commence at the end of August in China. D’Tigers were stuck in camp, unable to travel due to a lack of access to funding, before belatedly leaving the country on Tuesday night. NBBF President Musa Kida claimed that, while awaiting an intervention from the government, the body had been forced to take out loans in order to facilitate logistics.

The World Cup this year also doubles as qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, meaning there is even more at stake going in.

It is concerning that, considering the successes of the national basketball teams, their welfare is treated almost like an ad hoc consideration. They represent, not themselves, but the country as a whole, and are ambassadors whenever they compete. They deserve so much better.

NEW MINISTER: TOO EARLY TO REJOICE

The appointment of Sunday Dare as a Sports Minister has been greeted with mixed reactions. There are those who continue to yearn for an administrator with a specific sporting background, while some look at his impressive journalistic background and track record as a thinking man and believe he will get to grips with the rigours of the portfolio in no time.

For some, it is just enough that he is not Solomon Dalung.

However, it is important that the bar is not set that low. Sport is a sector in dire need of a competent hand at the helm, one who listens and has the foresight to look beyond petty politics and the outsized influence of football. By all accounts, the new minister at least fits that description. Whether he will deliver on that promise though remains to be seen.


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