Why were Nigeriens Rivers Hoopers expelled from the Basketball Africa League?
An important element will be missing from the second edition of the Basketball Africa League when it kicks off in March, after Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers were replaced in the 11th hour by Morocco’s AS Sale.
Both teams took part in the inaugural edition and Hoopers had qualified for this year’s tournament before the sport’s governing body FIBA ruled them ineligible and replaced them with Sale, who had reached the quarters of final in 2021.
The team’s announcement on February 8, where it was confirmed that the Hoopers would not play in Dakar on March 5, was the final heartbreak for the Nigeria squad.
They had embarked on a desperate but ultimately unsuccessful race against time to get them in as representatives for this year’s edition, after holding a FIBA-supervised election on January 31, in which Musa Kida was re-elected president of the NBBF.
Basketball stakeholders were hoping that the conclusion of the sanctioned electoral process would see Nigeria back into FIBA’s good graces and allow the country to field Hoopers as a representative to Africa’s premier basketball competition.
But why did they fall foul of FIBA and how did Africa’s basketball giants end up not being represented at the continent’s biggest tournament?
In short: FIBA does not allow governments to interfere in their competitions, and the Nigerian government has flouted this rule.
The long version…
The Hoopers were set to represent the country in the BAL after winning the Final 8 domestic qualifiers, hosted by the Nigerian Ministry of Sports, and emerging champions Nigeria.
But they were later disqualified from the tournament by FIBA following interference in NBBF affairs by said Ministry of Sports, despite two warnings from the world basketball governing body.
“It’s a really bad, heartbreaking situation we’re in,” Hoopers coach Ogoh Odaudu told ESPN.
“With all the experience from the first edition, we were looking to build on what we had achieved so far, to finally receive this card.”
This “card” was a January 14 letter from FIBA to the Nigerian Basketball Federation, advising that Hoopers “is not selected to compete in the BAL Finals”.
FIBA’s reasoning was simple, according to the letter signed by FIBA Africa Secretary General and Regional Director Alphonse Bile.
He clarified: “As the Nigerian Basketball Federation has not confirmed that it has, on its own initiative, ensured the effective organization of a regular national championship this season, FIBA Africa cannot therefore authorize the participation of a Nigerian club at the BAL this year. “
The Final 8 tournament, now disavowed by FIBA, was the second and final game of the domestic league championship. The first game, originally hosted by the Kida-led NBBF in September, saw four teams qualify each from the Savannah and Atlantic conferences.
However, before the second competition could take place, the Ministry of Sports disbanded the leadership of the NBBF as it prepared for the October 31 elections, then took over the leadership of basketball, via the General Secretary , Afolabi-Oluwayemi Olabisi.
All of these disruptions stem from the war of attrition that has raged in Nigerian basketball since the 2017 elections, where two factions emerged from two separate elections, each claiming legitimacy. One was led by outgoing President Tijani Umar, and the other by incoming President Kida.
After a fact-finding mission and months of dawdling, FIBA ruled that both elections were flawed as the NBBF had no constitution at the time. FIBA said it would communicate and recognize Kida’s board, and ordered that all parties meet to work on a Constitution that would lead to new elections.
This process concluded in 2019 with the ratification by Congress of a Constitution, which was then approved by FIBA. However, the Umar faction boycotted the process.
With elections scheduled for 2021, a new crisis erupted when the Umar faction challenged certain articles of the Constitution and demanded the modification or deletion of certain clauses.
To resolve the issues, Sports Minister Sunday Dare set up a reconciliation committee which recommended, among other things, that the elections be held in accordance with the 2019 Constitution.
Despite these recommendations, the ministry went ahead and canceled the elections, which had been approved by the NBBF Congress, and resumed running the affairs of the NBBF. A FIBA no-no, of course.
Although the official reason is that the elections were canceled due to security concerns in Benin City, the venue of the Congress, sources at the ministry told ESPN that the decision was made to allow the warring factions to settle their differences. , especially with regard to changes. in the FNB Constitution.
NBBF President Kida was not buying the cancellation and insisted that the elections go ahead. Eventually, he was forced to back down under pressure from the government.
In the end, and as one would expect, these actions by the ministry, seen as third-party interference in the activities of the NBBF, were met with disapproval from FIBA, prompting a letter from FIBA in November, warning the ministry against usurping the authority of the federation.
Rather than give in, the ministry went ahead and staged those Final 8 qualifiers anyway, where Rivers Hoopers became champions and was sent off as Nigeria’s representative, without the approval of the NBBF.
This all happened despite a clear warning from FIBA in its November 10 letter, stating that “FIBA will not recognize any competition or result arising from an event not controlled by the NBBF”.
FIBA’s decision to exclude Hoopers from the competition ultimately forced the ministry to step aside and allow the election to proceed. These elections were then postponed to January 31.
The ministry, still trying to control the process, ordered the elections to be held in Abuja, but Kida instead that the election would be held in the same location, Benin City, approved by Congress.
While some of the other factions are still boycotting the elections and holding rival polls in Abuja, under the leadership of the ministry, Kida ran unopposed and was re-elected as president two weeks ago.
Hoopers hoped in vain that the re-elected NBBF leadership could offer them a lifeline, with chief executive Ifie Ozaka telling ESPN in January: “I hope there is still a window of opportunity to come back to the decision after these elections.”
As a Plan B, the team also entered and won an NBBF sanctioned invitational tournament which was held in Lagos from February 1-5.
This was all for naught as the FIBA registration deadline was long closed.
“It’s a blow for us,” lamented Odaudu. “We worked so hard to get here.
“At the end of the day, after all this fighting, it’s the players who suffer. This has to stop.”
NBBF president Kida said he was saddened by the whole situation, telling ESPN: “I feel sad about it. None of this needed to happen.
“The first cut of the BAL was in mid-November, but it was extended until January 15 and we still haven’t managed to put our house in order, now we are paying the price of the supervision of our team from home.”