‘Why we withdrew Nigeria from international basketball’
• FG will rescind decision if gladiators resolve to work for the game, says ministry
The Federal Government decided to withdraw the country from international competitions to find time to cleanse the basketball industry and more especially, save the local game from completely crumbling, a senior official of the Ministry of Sports has said.
The ministry on Thursday announced the Federal Government’s approval of Nigeria’s withdrawal from all international engagements for a period of two years with immediate effect.
The decision, it said, would enable the government to concentrate efforts on revamping the sport from the grassroots and reviving the domestic leagues, which have become moribund.
The withdrawal, it added, would also allow for the setting up of an “Interim Management Committee (IMC) to oversee the management and development of the domestic basketball leagues in Nigeria and address other related issues around the development and advancement of the game in Nigeria.”
As expected, the decision has generated divergent comments from stakeholders; with some saying it is the best way to resolve the leadership crisis that has lingered in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) for over six years.
However, there are others, who believe withdrawing the country from international competitions would have adverse effects on the development of the game and erode the gains made by Nigeria in recent years.
A top official of the Sports Ministry, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian at the weekend, that the Federal Government was forced to take a drastic action to rescue the game from people that have held the country to ransom for a long time.
He said: “We tried several ways to get these people fighting over the administration of the game to resolve their differences and work in the interest of the game and its players. But, we discovered that the more we tried, we harder they dug in. It was an ego thing… they believed that without them Nigeria will not play basketball.
“There were disruptive protests here and there and the Federal Government took note of all these. The Federal Government was also worried that we did not have a league to produce players from home.
“There was so much pressure on the minister to resolve the issues and rescue our basketball. No country surrenders its national team to players born overseas, some, of who have never been to the country they are representing.
“Each time we tried to resolve the issues, they threatened us with FIBA ban. Our game was suffering…. the local leagues were gradually dying and the players were suffering. So, we had to take drastic action.”
He listed the effects of the five years of unending crisis including a court action that suspended the national league for more than three years; sponsors leaving the game, including abandoning the 12-year sponsorship of the Zenith women league; youthful local players wasting away because of the non-functional league; Nigeria banned from participating in the NBA-sponsored Basketball Africa League (BAL), and all national team players drawn from overseas clubs.
The official also said that the Federal Government tried to get the world basketball governing body, FIBA, to look into the issue, adding, however, that the body rejected all government invitations.
“We were alarmed when all members of the men’s national team signed a protest that they will no longer play for Nigeria unless an individual was removed as NBBF president.
“About half of the women national team also served notice they will no longer play for Nigeria because of the leadership crisis.”
He disclosed that the decision to withdraw the country from international competitions would be reversed if the gladiators come together and start thinking of how to lift the game and athletes.
“They are manipulating the athletes for selfish reasons. If they get together and approach the Federal Government that they are ready to move forward in unison, the government will rescind the decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Sports Ministry has revealed that it would begin its grassroots development programme with a zonal secondary school competition in June across the six geo-political zones.
Speaking on a national television programme at the weekend, Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, said the Ministry, through its Grassroots Department, would leverage on its six zonal coordinators to start a 3-4 weeks basketball competition amongst secondary schools starting in June.
He added that two representatives are expected to emerge from each zone, while the 12 teams will then converge on Abuja or Lagos for a one-week championship.