THE local basketball fraternity was this month forced to come to terms with a frustrating fact that only a few women basketball teams participated in the National Basketball League held at the National Indoor Stadium in Dar es Salaam.
The league is a crucial tournament because apart from serving as a platform for identifying talent, it also determines national club champions who represent the country in regional, zonal and continental championships.
This year's men's champions Savio and runners-up JKT, for instance, will represent the country in the Africa Zone V Club Championship in Bujumbura, Burundi from August 16-24. Jeshi Stars, who were crowned national women champions, and runners-up Polisi Dar es Salaam will take part in the ladies category.
Despite the poor show of women's teams, Tanzanian basketball lovers, nevertheless, draw solace from the increasing popularity of basketball at the local level, which is accompanied by active participation of youngsters in the sport.
“Basketball has undoubtedly occupied a place among the local fans' favourite sports and is continuing to win more followers,” acknowledges Tanzania Basketball Federation (TBF) secretary general Alexander Msoffe.
But much as basketball now enjoys a huge fan base and attracts participation among the majority of the youths, the sport has been experiencing uneven progress in which the number of male participants is bigger than that of their female counterparts.
There is surprisingly little interest among Tanzanian girls to participate in basketball as evidenced by the fewer number of female players competing in local tournaments.
While it is now familiar to find young men enjoying the game of basketball in, say, downtown Dar es Salaam, it is uncommon to find young girls practicing the sport in the streets.
Local women basketball clubs mostly comprise netball players who took up basketball as an alternative sporting hobby.
And, one would not be surprised to find that top flight women basketball teams like Jeshi Stars and JKT Stars comprise the same players who also play for army netball outfits -- Jeshi Stars and JKT Mbweni.
Several prominent women basketballers have expressed dissatisfaction over the lack of proper plans to promote basketball among local women.
“There have not been tangible efforts to groom young girls who will in future step into the current players' shoes,” says Linda John, who features for Don Bosco and Mwanza women regional basketball team.
“We have many local female basketball players who are of late playing until they are well over 40 years and the situation is indeed a sign of bleak future for the sport among local women.
“We need to effectively involve young girls in basketball from the grassroots level.
Linda says Tanzania should learn from its neighbours Burundi and Rwanda which are a good example of countries that are serious in promoting young girls in basketball.
“The increasing reliance on aging women players will serve no purpose in local basketball because such players will have to stop playing in the next few years and there will be no one to take over from them,” says Linda.
She also says a good number of the present women basketball players are not up to scratch and do not take training seriously
“Our women basketball teams need serious training if they wish to be a serious contender for top positions in major local competitions otherwise they stand to lose out in preliminary stages every season,” she says.
The women basketball teams' reliance on aging players reveals a huge challenge facing TBF in promoting the sport among local girls.
With a few girls competing in local tournaments including the Inter-Secondary Schools basketball leagues, local women basketball teams have no choice but to cling to their seasoned players.
Dar es Salaam and Mwanza, which are so far the most active regions in promotion of basketball in the country, are the most evident case studies of unsatisfactory progress of basketball on the part of women.
The Inter-Secondary Schools tournament held in Mwanza two years ago saw only two schools field teams in the girls' category while the boys' group had over 10 teams.
Mwanza ladies' reluctance prompted basketball pundits to urge girls in the region to learn and play basketball in numbers.
They pointed out that participation in basketball is beneficial to the girls' health and will also boost their academic performance.
However, efforts by the pundits to encourage girls to play basketball have hardly yielded fruits as this year's National Basketball League has proved.
TBF was forced to keep the door open to teams wishing to participate in the league after receiving a poor response from women teams.
Serious promotion of basketball among local girls now turns to be a huge challenge to TBF as it seeks to make the sport one of the most successful at the local level.
There is certainly a handful of local girls in the streets who fancy to get their hands on a basketball thus concerted efforts are needed to tap such talents.
TBF should also ensure that Tanzanian teams participate in all regional and international competitions. Competing in these tournaments will enable the country to promote the sport at the local level and subsequently make it a force to reckon with in East Africa.
But when Tanzanian teams stay away the local basketball players miss the opportunity to garner valuable experience by playing against other nations in the region and beyond.
Financial constraints have proved to be a persistent drawback to sports development in the country and this problem can only be solved if BFT and other national associations work hard to win sponsorships.