Nigerian government makes U-turn over basketball withdrawal

Nigeria men's basketball team are due to continue their World Cup qualifying campaign in July in Rwanda

Nigeria's government has made a U-turn over its decision last month to withdraw from international basketball for the next two years.

At the time the Ministry of Youth and Sports said the withdrawal was because of "the unending drama that have plagued and nearly crippled basketball" in the West African country.

It argued the decision, which was approved by Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, would enable the country to "revamp" the sport from grassroots level and revive "moribund" domestic leagues.

The reversal comes after talks between officials from the sport's world governing body, Fiba, and Nigeria's Minister of Youth and Sports Sunday Dare.

A letter from the Fiba-recognised Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) president Musa Kida outlining key changes which could be made also helped prompt the government's change in position.

The move means Nigeria men's team will be able to continue in the qualifying campaign for the 2023 World Cup in Rwanda next month, where they will play Mali, Uganda and Cape Verde.

D'Tigers are top of the group on points difference after the first round of games last November, with the top three in the pool advancing to the second round of qualifying which is set to begin in August.

However, the announcement comes too late for the women's national team to be reinstated into this year's Women's World Cup.

Earlier this month Fiba took the decision to replace Nigeria with Mali at the tournament, which will be held in Australia in September and October.

U-turn 'in spirit of national interest'

The decision to pull out of global basketball had been met with dismay by players and officials in Nigeria, and also abroad.

Women's international Upe Atosu described it as "heart-wrenching" while Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian-Canadian who is president of NBA side Toronto Raptors, criticised NBBF officials.

According to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, its meeting with Fiba produced "common understanding in certain areas".

It added that both Fiba and Nigeria had made a commitment "to explore and collaborate on enhancing relationships, development of basketball and reaffirmed mutual respect for the laws and constitution of Nigeria as a sovereign state".

The letter from NBBF president Kida said the organisation would set up a team to "reconcile all contending parties in the basketball family at home and abroad".

Ultimately, President Buhari was again consulted and approved the return."President Muhammadu Buhari, being one that is committed to youth development and desirous of ensuring that they are availed of all opportunities in sports and other endeavours considered the appeal," a statement from the Ministry of Youth and Sports said.

"In the overriding spirit of national interest, love for our youth, and in order to avoid sending basketball development into a long period of suspension, when NBBF have now committed to resolution of the issues which precipitated the withdrawal in the first place, has approved the return of Nigeria to international basketball immediately."

The sport in Nigeria has been blighted by a protracted leadership crisis following a controversial election six years ago, leaving two parallel boards laying claim to the leadership of the federation.

The battle for control of Nigerian basketball has often hampered preparations for international competitions and crippled the country's domestic leagues.

Kida was re-elected as NBBF president in January, a result which was ratified by Fiba in March.

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