by Adedammy Adedotun

On Tuesday, 20th November 2018, the Player Representative on the Engr Musa Kida led Board of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, Ejike Ugboaja shared a comment on his Facebook wall that has generated interesting comments. 

In his post, he explained how he has been prevented from doing his job as the player representative by some other board members and he advised that any questions as regards player welfare should be directed to these two gentlemen. He did not state, however, if he is stepping down from the Board.

As expected, most of the comments have been from a political perspective; while some have questioned the mode of operation of the board and gentlemen referenced, others have attacked the competence of the player representative and the sincerity of his post. But like I always suggest, we should look beyond political sentiments and discuss the more fundamental issues that lie herein - our approach to player representation

Isn’t it time to find at a more practical and functional way in which the demands and welfare of the players can be appropriately addressed? 

There are two factors we need to critically consider - a) Who becomes the player representative and b) the mode of operation or platform from which the player representative acts. 

The best way out - an active league player as representative with an independent platform (not as a Board member). Let`s take a cue from the NBA, the WNBA, and their respective players` association. 

Here are the things I think we must have to make any meaningful progress;

1. A more functional platform - There might have been good intentions when a spot was created for representatives of the players on the Board of the basketball federation. However, there is no way such representative will have the power and authority to sincerely and genuinely act on behalf of the players especially when it concerns the action of the board directly or indirectly. Let`s consider the roles of the Human Resources Director and the President of the Staff Union of an organisation. Expecting the HR Director to fight on behalf of the staff for increment in wages or improved welfare packages is just a waste of time. Usually, all the HR Director will do is communicate management decisions that pertain to staff to them. Your player representative of the board will seek the approval of the board to carry out any activities and as we have seen in Ejike Ugboaja`s case, the board might choose to frustrate all efforts of the representative. We need an independent platform.

2. A Streamlined Group - The phrase `Nigerian Players` or `Basketball players of Nigeria` is a very vague description as it encompasses too wide a group; a group containing people with diverse needs. How do we define Nigerian players - national team player, pro team players, unattached player, 3x3 player, student-athletes, recreational (or for leisure) player? Why don`t we segregate and regroup? Why don`t we start small and then scale up if need be?. The group of players with the urgent need is the league players, so let them come together to form two distinct groups - premier basketball league players and women`s league players

3. A Reflective Representation - As highlighted above, when it comes to the welfare of players, the `players` in question are league players (The welfare of the national team players is never an issue as they have Team Managers to deal with that). So, choosing someone outside this particular group of people to represent them at any level whatsoever, is not the most ideal thing to do. Ejike Ugboaja is not an active league player neither was Olumide Oyedeji when he was the players` representative on the Board from 2013-2017. The only time a round peg was put in a round hole was when Stanley Gumut was given the role on the Tijani Umar Board. We need an active league player to lead the organisation of league players. 

4. A Collective Participation - For the organisation of league players to work, all the league players need to play an active role - from election/appointment of officials, general meetings, financial contribution, to implementing action plans and decisions taken. It has to be all-inclusive. One way to go about this is to get the Captain and Assistant/Vice Captain of each team to form the General Council of the organisation, who in turn choose the leader and a couple of deputies. The success of any kind of player forum depends largely on the willingness of all players to come together.

5. A Target Audience - If we are able to streamline and categorise the players concerned, we should also pick out the exact group that the league players should table their grievances to. The last administration made an effort to delegate authority by setting up a League Management Board for the male league. If this is sustained, then it is the League Management Board that the players should establish communication with, specifically. I sincerely hope this model is sustained.

6. A Concise Request - Every negotiation starts with a list of demand. So, for the organisation of league players to be successful in its fight for better welfare, they need to indicate what `better welfare` means to them as detailed and as concise as possible - minimum salary for players, increased game bonus, insurance, and other non-monetary benefits, life after pro-basketball etc. Players must realise that paying power of clubs are different - state-owned clubs might have the capacity to pay more than private clubs and some state clubs might be more interested in the sport than other counterparts - so, demands should be reasonable and realistic.

The demand should also be seen as a door to meaningful discussion and negotiation with team owners, so the manner of approach is important.

7. A Transparent Beginning - We have demanded transparency from administrators in recent times. We need to extend it to players too because frankly, not all players have a welfare problem, some players are well taken care of. These players will be seen as being loyal to the club if they decide not to be a part of the organisation. So, players need to be transparent about their earnings so the current state of things is better understood. This would help in defining what better welfare should be. The knowledge of the state of things will also get the general public to empathise with the players, people can do the maths and put things in proper perspective. 

8. A Commitment to Success - The logistics of getting everyone on board will cost money - traveling, meetings, paperwork etc. and players (not the clubs, League Management Board or the Federation) will be responsible for these expenses. See, with independence comes responsibility and in this instance, that includes money and time. I expect the veteran players to spearhead this movement and every player who clamour for better welfare to support in any way they can. Beyond Facebook posts, it is time for players to put their money (and time) where their mouth is. 

9. A Sincere Cry for Help - For the organisation of league players to work, a lot of professional help is required - legal advisors, accountants, strategists, media experts, brand communicators, human resources consultants etc. Considering that the organisation would not be able to afford them anytime soon, they should reach out to as many people as possible who are willing to help. I can guarantee that people will be glad to help. 

Administration after administration, players have complained about their welfare, maybe it is time they did something about it. Like Oni Afolabi rightly said, `It`s time for players to stand up as individual entities and groups to fight for their rights. For how long will they wait for external forces to fight their battles for them` 

In my article on the Team Owners` Council, I mentioned that we need a third force to balance the activities of the League Board and the Team Owners` Council. The organisation of league players is that balancing force. Imagine if we had a round table between the three parties to discuss and agree on how best the league can be run. It would be the defining moment of our league. 


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