26 November 2012

FIBA AFRICA : Why short-term contracts damage progress

Why short-term contracts damage progress
SHEFFIELD (Júlio Chitunda’s African Message) - For some, the autumn is the ideal time of the year to start outlining personal and corporate objectives for the upcoming year.
In basketball, especially in the national teams’ competitions, things are not much different.
And head coaches’ positions are often a priority.
Last week, Spanish Basketball Federation (FEB) President Jose Luis Saez revealed he intended on deciding in two weeks the continuity, or not, of Sergio Scariolo, the head coach of Spain’s men’s team, 10 months before the 2013 EuroBasket.
A couple of weeks ago, President Umar Tijjani of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) told me that they are receiving and evaluating CVs of potential head coaches to lead their national teams.
However, looking at the 2013 African basketball agenda, it suggests that some national federations are planning too, but when are they going to make final decisions and seal agreements?
Let me share with you my view on the short-term agreements, particularly in the African context.
As things stand, it looks like the old philosophy of signing head coaches on a temporary basis for an international event - usually for a period of two to three months - is to prevail, which I believe is a failed option.
It is difficult to implement a team chemistry and mindset in such a short period of time.
Historically, very few head coaches have achieved African glory under such short-term agreements.
Spanish-born French head coach Jose Ruiz led Mali's women’s team to the 2007 Afrobasket title, two months into his contract.
He argues that he succeeded because he knew and scouted most of the France-based Malian players who formed the national team’s backbone. “Otherwise”, he said, it was almost impossible to build a team without knowing the players.
This is why longer terms agreements mean higher chances to succeed.
The Ivory Coast Basketball Federation (FIBB), the hosts of the 2013 Afrobasket, were aware of this predicament earlier this year when they signed head coach Christophe Denis of France.
Denis coaches French team Paris Levallois. He had an initial training camp with the Ivory Coast national team early in the year.
Short-term contracts may appear to save money, but can be very costly.
For reasons that only Angolan Basketball Federation (FAB) knows, it decided last year not to extend the contract of Luis Magalhães, a man who had helped the country win Afrobasket 2009.
Instead FAB confirmed Frenchman Michel Gomez in May 2011 with the objective of winning the Afrobasket, three months later.
The move did not work out and Gomez was sacked midway through the tournament with Angola going on to lose to Tunisia in the Final.
Nevertheless, Gomez’s abilities should not be questioned.
A year later, FAB seemed to have learned from the past and signed former Angola international José Carlos Guimarães, an agreement that may last up to the end of next year’s Afrobasket.
This past summer, although he had agreed terms in March, Frenchman Michel Perrin only started coaching Mali's women’s team 10 days before the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
The 2011 Afrobasket bronze medallist lost both group games to France and Canada, and Perrin is still waiting to hear whether he remains with the team.
Tunisia’s Adel Tlatli is the longest serving head coach in African basketball.
He first took over in 2001, but remained in the charge for only five months.
Tunisia's Basketball Federation (TBFF) reappointed him in April 2004 and he has been in charge ever since.
His continuing work with the men’s team has gone from strength to strength. After missing out on qualification to the 2003 Afrobasket, Tunisia finished eighth in 2005, sixth in 2007, third in 2009 and they won gold in 2011 to qualify for the London Olympics.
Coach Tlatli had just landed in Tunis, from Cairo, Egypt - where he attended the 2012 FIBA Africa Congress - when we discussed the “short term contract culture” in African basketball.
“(In Cairo) I spoke to some officials about the issue, and some say that they can’t afford to sign a coach on long term basis,” Tlatli said.
For Tlatli “signing short term contracts is not a workable option because there is nothing a coach can do in a very short period of time.”
“I have built this team (Tunisia's men’s team), and I keep working with most of the players I helped develop since they were 19,” he explained.
Clearly, it is a fact that many basketball programmes in Africa depend on their central government's annual’s budgets.
But, with the rising number of multi-national firms heading to the African emerging market, there is no reason for basketball to remain unfunded.
If there are no government funds, then let private investors join in.
For instance, Tanzania and Oklahoma City Thunder big man Hasheem Thabeet this year hosted a training camp in his native Dar es Salaam, a successful event sponsored by Coca-Cola, which showed that in order to end the inability to fund basketball programmes, marketing may become a helpful solution.
Talent and basketball passion are unquestionable in Africa. Successful teams need stability, consistency and good marketing.
Surely, the tendency to win fast results does not come from short-term contracts.
Júlio Chitunda

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