Zambian footballer’s American dream ends in tragedy

Many athletes in Africa dream of playing professional sports in Europe or the United States, where salaries are big and opportunities await.

DXC3QB3XcAELAmfAaron Simutowe of Zambia was no different. He was a defender for Zambia’s Under 20 national team that played in the 1999 FIFA U20 World Cup. He then moved to the United States and played one season for the Jacksonville Cyclones of the A-League, which later became the USL First Division.

That seemed like a promising start, but Simutowe was killed in a hit-and-run accident Saturday, Feb. 24, in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut _ a long way from both Zambia and Jacksonville, Florida. He was struck by two cars while walking on a city street at night.

News reports of the fatal accident described Simutowe, 38, as homeless. How a once-promising professional soccer player ended up homeless is unknown. There’s no public information available about Simutowe’s life after the season in Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville Cyclones were managed by David Viollet, a former striker for Manchester United and England’s national team.

Simutowe was the son of the late Boniface Simutowe, a well-known Zambian midfielder who went on to coach for many years. Aaron’s cousin is Amon Simutowe, who is a chess Grandmaster.

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Irish priest held Nigerian marathon record for 46 years

Abraham Kiprotich of Kenya won the recent Lagos City Marathon with a time of 2:15:02, which is a new record.

Congrats. Now, here’s where it gets strange: The prior record holder was a Catholic priest from Ireland. Sean Healy won a marathon in the Nigerian city of Kaduna on Aug. 28, 1971. He was a missionary at the time.

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Sean Healy (Sligo Today)

According to the IAAF, Healy’s “all-comers” record time of 2:15:03 stood until Kiprotich broke it Feb. 10. The classification refers to a record in a country without regard to the runner’s nationality. Kiprotich’s record is with electronic “chip time,” as his “gun time” was 2:15:04.

Healy also won the Earth Day Marathon outside New York City on March 16, 1975, when he was a graduate student at Fordham University. As of 1999, Healy was still running marathons, according to this Irish Times feature, which highlighted his work on human rights initiatives in Ireland.

Healy is now director of Social Justice Ireland, a think tank based in Dublin.

As impressive as the record was, keep in mind that Nigeria went decades without holding a marathon. This was just the third Lagos City Marathon, though it has already earned the IAAF “bronze label.” Race organizers want Lagos to become an internationally acclaimed marathon.

Almenesh Herpha of Ethiopia won the women’s race in 2:38:23. Kiprotich is Kenyan but technically runs for France. He became a citizen after serving in the French Foreign Legion.

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NBA’s Gorgui Dieng saved his national team from hotel eviction, but he hasn’t been reimbursed

Gorgui Dieng of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves says he paid out of pocket to prevent his national team from being kicked out of its hotel in Spain during training for the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket tournament. But Senegalese officials still haven’t reimbursed him, according to local media reports.

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Gorgui Dieng after a national team practice in Dakar.

Dieng told Senegalese media that representatives of the country’s Ministry of Sports asked him for a $69,800 loan because of “urgent financial problems” in late August. The hotel wanted to evict the Senegalese delegation because of nonpayment.

Dieng agreed to give the loan but says he hasn’t been reimbursed. The 6-foot-11 Senegalese captain also said players had threatened to strike because they didn’t receive their bonuses, and that the coaching staff was on the verge of quitting due to lack of payments.

In his written statement, reported Wednesday by the sports dailies Record and Stades, Dieng said he wanted to protect the team’s image and keep the focus on winning games. Senegal was among the favorites to win AfroBasket in September but finished third. Dieng was named to the all-tournament team.

“Winning the African cup was the only thing that mattered to me and it’s the only thing that motivates me to wear the national jersey,” Dieng said in the statement.

Dieng said the ministry and the Senegalese Basketball Federation have made several promises to repay him, but they keep missing deadlines. He said this shows a “lack of respect” and he now regrets stepping in to help.

The Record reported Dieng’s story on Tuesday, citing sources. The newspaper said it tried to contact the sports minister and the president of the basketball federation, without success.

Dieng is in the first year of a four-year, $62.8 million contract.

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Bad look: South Africa skips basketball World Cup

The qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup tipped off without South Africa. This is not good for African basketball.

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South Africa vs. Senegal in the 2017 AfroBasket tournament.

South Africa withdrew because of financial problems. Keep in mind South Africa has the continent’s biggest economy.

FIBA selected Chad to replace South Africa for the tourney, which began Nov. 24 in Cameroon and Angola.

Sanele Mthiyane, president of the country’s basketball association, explained in a Nov. 7 letter to FIBA that there’s an “unavailability of funds and lack of support” from the country’s sports department and confederation and Olympic committee. He said they are in debt from playing in the AfroBasket tournament in September.

This is a bad look for several reasons. First, South Africa is a sports leader on the continent. It hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and now it can’t afford to send a team to Cameroon?

To ‘grow the game,’ which everybody talks about doing, it helps to have economic backing. Basketball is fairly new to South Africa and isn’t on the radar compared to rugby or soccer, but the country has more resources than most in Africa.

Finally, NBA Africa has its office in Johannesburg. It has held two “all star” games in South Africa in hopes of raising the game’s popularity. The NBA is also opening an academy, in Senegal, to train elite players from all over Africa.

The South Africans went 0-3 in the AfroBasket tournament in Senegal, including two blowout losses, so no one was expecting miracles in the World Cup qualifiers. Still, it would have been another step toward improving its national team program. The blog MyBasketball wrote in August that South Africa’s preparation for AfroBasket was nonexistent.

The top five squads from the 16-team tournament will qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China. Top finishers in China will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

South African players turned to social media in hopes of raising funds but it was too late.

Sportscaster Robert Marawa tweeted: “The rot around Basketball in SA cannot go unchallenged!! These players have had years of being treated like dirt!! It has to stop!!”

This story in the Daily Maverick spotlights some of the internal problems.

This reminds me of what Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, said about African governments and sports management when I interviewed him before the AfroBasket tourney.

Ujiri, a Nigerian who runs clinics throughout Africa each summer, told me for my Associated Press story: “We’re moving forward in technology, we’re moving forward in banking, we’re moving forward in real estate. While these things are getting better, sports are being left behind. How is that possible?”

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Super Eagles fans seethe as Tammy Abraham chooses England over Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham in training. (Photo property of England Football Association)

Nigerians are venting their anger at Tammy Abraham for choosing England over Nigeria.

The 20-year-old Chelsea striker, on loan at Swansea City, made his senior debut Nov. 10 in a friendly against Germany. Abraham started and played 60 minutes in the scoreless draw.

Super Eagles fans got excited when Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick, who is a longtime friend of Abraham’s Nigerian-born father, said in September that Abraham “has agreed to play for Nigeria.”

Abraham, who has four goals in 10 appearances for Swansea, immediately disputed Pinnick’s claim. Soon after, he was named to the squad for friendlies against Germany and Brazil (Nov. 14)

“I see myself as being a long-term England player. I’m 100 percent focused here,” Abraham said at his news conference after the promotion.

Nigerians have been venting their anger, saying England promoted Abraham only to block him from playing for Nigeria, and that Abraham is missing a chance at international glory. One angry fan tweeted: “Even my grandma knows you won’t play a single match for England at the World Cup.”

I agree that he should have chosen Nigeria because he would have a better chance of playing in the World Cup. But I also think it’s unfair to criticize a 20-year-old for making a tough decision.

Abraham was born and raised in England. Plus, don’t underestimate the disorganization factor. For one, there’s Pinnick’s seemingly premature claim that Abraham had switched allegiances. And the Super Eagles were stranded in Atlanta before the 2016 Rio Olympics after Nigerian officials botched flight plans. Schoolchildren don’t want to deal with these types of headaches, much less elite professionals.

Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, 21, opted for Nigeria over England. His goal in a 1-0 win over Zambia on Oct. 7 sealed Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup in Russia next summer. Iwobi was born in Lagos and his uncle his Nigerian football legend Jay-Jay Okocha.

To play for England in Russia, Abraham will have to compete with the likes of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Daniel Sturridge, and Jaimie Vardy.

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New contract, fewer minutes for Gorgui Dieng of Timberwolves

One year ago, Gorgui Dieng agreed to a four-year, $62.8 million contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He went on to start all 82 games last season and posted career-best numbers. He averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game.

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Gorgui Dieng with his national team before AfroBasket 2017. (K. Maguire photo)

Now, however, he’s coming off the bench, just as the new contract kicks in. Through the first seven games of the 2017-18 season, the Senegalese big man has averaged just 13.6 minutes; the same as his 2013-14 rookie season.

Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves’ head coach and president of basketball operations, brought in Taj Gibson on a two-year, $28 million deal in the offseason.

Gibson has replaced Dieng in the starting lineup. Dieng, a 6-foot-11 power forward/center, is making the most of his minutes by averaging 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Still, will the Wolves want to continue paying $14 million this season __ and the salary escalates by $1 million each year __ for a bench player? The website Dunking With Wolves has outlined some trade scenarios.

Dieng’s contract makes him Senegal’s wealthiest basketball player.

DeSagana Diop earned about $40 million over 12 seasons in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected him eighth overall in the 2001 NBA Draft. The 7-foot shot-blocker entered the draft directly from Oak Hill Academy.

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Senegal tops France en route to ‘Mini-Football’ bronze

Congrats to Senegal for taking the bronze medal in the Mini-Football World Cup, which concluded Sunday in Tunisia.

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Senegal’s starting lineup (Photo by Mohamed Taher Ben Chaabane)

Third place is good, but let’s be honest, the best part was Senegal’s 4-3 quarterfinal victory over France. Mouhamed Diop Niang scored the goal of the tourney when he chested down a long pass, turned and fired a rocket into the net. It was the game winner.

If only handball specialist Thierry “I am not the referee” Henry was there to absorb some grief! Ah, someday.

The Czech Republic beat Mexico 3-0 in the final. This was the second edition of the 6v6 tournament. The United States hosted and won in 2015, although that was an “arena” tourney, with sideboards like in ice hockey.

Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Libya, and Somalia were the other African teams. Senegal beat Spain 5-0 in the bronze-medal game.

The World Minifootball Federation organizes the tournament.

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