Few years ago, Basketball icon, LeBron James took a political stand against racism in the United States; leading journalist, Laura Ingraham to famously issue him a reply, “Shut up and dribble.”
The Nigerian female basketball team, D’Tigress, faced a similar plight. Over the years, they’ve taken stands on some major issues affecting them, and the authorities expected to address their concerns, have basically told them to shut up and dribble. Unlike LeBron James however, these ladies do not earn millions of dollars to just focus on basketball and leave political issues to the experts.
Sports administration in Nigeria has the since early 2000s been abysmal; to put it mildly. The number of athletic programmes have drastically declined since the country’s golden age of sports, compared to the times when the likes of Jay Jay Okocha, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bash Ali, Chioma Ajunwa, and Taribo West inspired millions of Nigerians with their athleticism.
Today, even very talented athletes and teams are given little or no support by the government, and have in fact, been met with actions that frustrate the effort they have volunteered to put in. A point of reference would be the seizure by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) of a shipment containing jerseys and other sports equipment donated to the Nigerian Basketball Team by Chinese Sports Company; Peak.
In this regard, D’Tigress have been one of the major victims of government’s negligence and culture of irresponsibility in sports. It would seem like every time the team is on the news, it’s about some scuffle or issue they have with the authorities. A dynamic that is at least, absurd; considering how much accomplishments the team has made in the face of being under-funded.
They have been the FIBA Women AfroBasket Champions for four times; winning it a 3rd consecutive time this year.
In 2020, D’Tigress had disputes with the former board of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF), headed by Ahmadu Musa Kida over bonuses and monies donated by corporate Nigeria to the team before Tokyo 2020. They were offered only part payment of outstanding debts being owed them; an offer that the team refused, perhaps because it appeared ridiculous to them.
Last year, officials of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development were accused of failing to distribute $100,000 (N41.1million) allowances donated by three banks to Nigeria’s Women Basketball Team for their Tokyo 2020 Olympic participation.
This year, the ladies of Nigerian basketball refused to shut up and dribble. They have issued threats to all who care to listen about boycotting the World Cup qualifiers, if their demands are not met. They are demanding the payment of a backlog of their bonuses and allowances, an improved welfare package, as well as honour by the Presidency for making the country proud.
It must be depressing that after all the ladies went through for their country, they have not even been extended an invitation by the President, and have been subjected to a fight for funds which they should be entitled to. And in spite of this, they continue to play for the motherland, and win.
Perhaps someday, not just female athletes in Nigeria, but the entire athletes in the country would be truly rewarded for their services, and no doubt when that day comes, they would have the likes of the 2021 D’Tigress to thank for that.