D’Tigress’ Afrobasket triumph

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President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo received the victorious Nigeria’s senior female Basketball team, D’Tigress, in Abuja, on Wednesday, August 30, 2017.

FOR economically embattled Nigerians, good news can be difficult to come about.  Against this backdrop, reports last week that the country’s female basketball team, D’Tigress, had prevailed over their Senegalese counterparts 65- 48 in the final of the 2017 FIBA Women Afrobasket tournament holding in Mali, Bamako, were music to the ears of many Nigerians. With the victory, the Aisha Mohammed-captained team also sealed qualification to the 2018 FIBA World Championship to be held in Spain.

Playing with only three home-based players– Nkechi Akashili, Chioma Udeaja and Upe Atosu– the Nigerian ladies had an unblemished tournament. Not only did they win all their games, they managed to vanquish hosts and pre-tournament favorites, Mali, in a hotly-contested semi-final. According to Aisha Mohammed, who plays professionally for Turkish team OGM Orman, the hosts were the toughest opponents that the D’Tigress played against.

This marks the third time that Nigeria has come out on top in this tournament. The country was victorious in the 17th edition held in 2005 in Abuja and, before that, in 2003.  President Muhammadu Buhari was quick to congratulate the players and commend them for displaying “uncommon strength and confidence.” The president also charged the team to “work towards winning the forthcoming 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain.” Later, at a reception for the team, the president topped his earlier congratulatory message with an announcement of cash reward to the players (N1million each) and their handlers (N500, 000 each).

Other congratulatory messages have followed from across the basketball and sporting communities. For his part, the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalong, congratulated the technical crew and the entire team on “ending a 12-year drought” and putting the country’s name on the African basketball map. According to the minister, the D’Tigress’ victory is not attributable to luck but “weeks of hard work, planning and strategising by the board, technical crew and the players.” Finally, Zenith Bank Plc, official sponsors of the National Women League, have extended warm congratulations to the all-conquering team. In a statement signed by the group’s Group Managing Director, Peter Amangbo, Zenith Bank saluted “the hard work and determination of the players and officials of the team especially because they won all their matches in the competition.”

We are delighted to lend our voice to this joyful chorus of congratulations. We observe that, unlike the situation when the Super Falcons conquered Africa, the D’Tigress players were promptly rewarded by the government. We commend the Federal Government and the Ministry of Sports for acting with dispatch. The victory of the female basketball team is proof, if any were needed, that there is life and glory beyond football. More often than not, not only has Nigeria as a society treated that other-world with disdain, to its utter detriment, it has tended to downplay non-footballing achievements. Yet, nothing says it has to choose between football and other sports. On the contrary, Nigerians can and should embrace all sports, providing the men and women in different sporting disciplines with the financial resources and moral support that they need.

Finally, even as Nigerians rightfully celebrate, it is important to keep in mind that only three members of the D’Tigress team are based in Nigeria. The remaining members ply their trades in various professional leagues in Turkey, Italy, Spain, Israel, Hungary, Argentina, and the United States. The main reason for this is the poor state of facilities in Nigeria and the comparatively low remuneration that playing in the local league brings. This is an issue to focus on as all stakeholders study the future of the game in Nigeria.

We wish the team the very best as it prepares for next year’s global tournament.

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