Cameroon’s social media space has been aflame with regard to the news reported by French sports outlets that Joel Embiid had taken administrative steps to acquire French nationality, in a bid to play international basketball with the French national team.
The news comes as a very surprising one as Joel has no connection to France, other than coming from a country that suffers from its neo-colonialist proclivities and speaking its language. Joel has never lived in France either. So what justifies this choice?
No doubt, it is this particular choice of country that has rammed a knife into the neck of Cameroonians and has caused the online ruckus over the issue. Cameroonians generally have anti-French sentiments and Joel Embiid’s choice has thrown oil into the fire and many have made their opinion known; some with barely-veiled insults.
It is however important that one seeks to have a balanced view of the matter by perhaps playing devil’s advocate to see what thought process Joel could have gone through to make that choice, and juxtapose that with the dispensation of Cameroon today.
Many may not know, but the NBA is very protective of its players. NBA players earn the highest average salary amongst all the sportsmen in the world. It is a billion-dollar industry that generated $8.76 billion in 2019. The average NBA franchise alone is worth $2.6 billion today. America being the capitalist nation that it is, will do everything it can to keep the show going and make sure that its best players are protected, are in good shape, and are always available to play irrespective of calendars of competitions outside of the USA. And so to ensure all this, the NBA garnishes its contracts with players, clauses that ensure this always happens.
Some of the clauses go as far as stating that the player will not play for any entity outside the NBA as long as they have a valid contract, while other clauses ask for health insurance guarantees paid by national federations before the NBA can let the player play for the national team. In 2011 for example, the NBA asked the French federation to pay $1.5 million as a health insurance guarantee to release the players the federation wanted to participate in the European Basketball Cup. The French team had to negotiate and then pay 450,000 euros to an insurance company that agree to bear the risk of injury to any of the French players playing in the NBA.
When we come back to Cameroon and look at our federations, the only federation capable of paying such an amount is the football federation. Luckily for them, the national team is regularly present at international tournaments and so the coffers have a good revenue stream.
The basketball league on the other hand is in dire straits, and even with competitions like Afrobasket, the winning nation gets $1 million. Whereas with football, the Indomitable Lions will receive $1.5 million ahead of the world cup, just for their preparation alone. Asking them to shell out 450,000 euros for insurance is suicide. And before you ask, it is not the duty of Joel or any other NBA basketball to help with that even though they earn millions of dollars every year.
So when you put that into perspective for someone like Joel Embiid who wishes to play international basketball, you begin to understand how the financial constraint alone is a big block. And we have not even mentioned the amateurism that has plagued the basketball federation for years – amateurism which is sometimes caused by a lack of funding and bureaucrats siphoning money to line their pockets.
But then again, one can ask this question: What value-added is France going to give Joel Embiid?
Fans of the sports will tell you that there is no greater place, no greater arena to play in than in the NBA. Why would Joel Embiid want to create angst in his countrymen by playing for a country with which Cameroonians share a very troubling past and present? Why do you need to dance with the enemy when you can just be in the NBA and still be considered one of the greatest players of the sport? Clearly, Cameroonians would not have had this kind of reaction if he had chosen to play with the USA.
When it is looked at from that angle, one begins to understand why Cameroonians are unhappy with his choice and think that despite it all, he could have chosen to play for Cameroon. It has not helped that over the last years, Joel has been accused by Cameroonian fans of the NBA of not being liked to be associated with Cameroon and has never been really proud to say he is from here except when it is for marketing purposes like with the release of his shoes tinged with the colours of the Cameroon flag. Some fans have complained about him not acknowledging them when they go to his games, with Cameroon flags and calling him by name.
Pascal Siakam, on the other hand, seems to be far more beloved and attracts greater empathy from Cameroonians. It gets worse when the fact that the efforts of another Cameroonian NBA player, Luc Mbah A Moute, were instrumental in making Embiid who he is today. It is no secret that Joel Embiid was scouted during one of the basketball camps organized by the former, who took Joel to the states and coached him in integrating the society, ultimately helping him land a spot in the NBA.
But ultimately the onus of responsibility no doubt lies on the government and its responsibility with the many dispirited youths its poor governance has left in its wake. There is no real, tangible politics and policy with regard to the development of sports in Cameroon. OSSUCS and FENASCO are relics of their past, and football, which is the one tree that tried to cover the burnt forest of sports has itself been plagued by mismanagement for donkey years. Eto’o‘s ascension to power at the Fecafoot is the one beacon of hope that could keep that tree alive as well as the little saplings it will hopefully soon bear.
Even Francis Ngannou‘s performances in the UFC, whom President Paul Biya ironically asked youths to emulate, is indirectly the result of his poor governance. Ngannou in Cameroon would never have been equipped with the tools and advocacy needed to make him the fighter he is today. And he is the person these same bureaucrats that have starved the country, are showing to the youths as a model of success.
Rwanda, for example, has been doing a lot for itself with regard to the development of and the marketing of sports, and with basketball in particular. A lot more than what the Cameroonian government is doing with regard to the marketing and the promotion of sports.
Sports does not develop a nation but the development of sports can create amongst the young people a knowledge of the drive, discipline and hard work it takes to be successful. And for those who do make it to success in football, basketball, swimming, track and field etc, they give the opportunity to their younger ones to dream and to aspire to be like them. Just like how Thomas Nkomo made Carlos Kameni dream, and like how, in turn, Kameni made Andre Onana dream.
The USA gave Embiid everything he needed to succeed. So long as we do not give our youth everything they can to help them to dream and succeed, France and the other countries to which they will forfeit their nationalities will continue to be our wall of lamentations.
– Wandji Wilfred.