Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka both expressed their anger and frustration against the decision by the federal government of Nigeria to withdraw its basketball teams from international competitions for two years and potentially eliminate any chance of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics.
Ujiri and Udoka are both of Nigerian descent. Ujiri called for resignations and a rebirth of the Nigerian federation.
Udoka said the Nigerian federation suffers from disorganization.
“A lot of the same stuff I dealt with as a player, which is disappointing,” said Udoka, a former player for the Nigerian national team.
In a letter titled “Enough Is Enough” Ujiri lambasting those running the game in Nigeria.
Ujiri proceeded to write an open letter to the nation’s Ministry of Sports, as well as the Federation, calling for change.
“Enough is enough,” Ujiri wrote. “The ongoing senseless power struggle involving the NBBF has resulted in a two-year self-imposed ban by the Minister of Sports (an outgoing Minister imposing a ban that in reality would have a four-year destructive implication) that prohibits Nigerian basketball teams from entering international competitions. This is a symptom of an issue that has permeated the sports ecosystem for years. When leaders put self interest over national interest, the innocent suffer. It’s time for them to step aside, for the good of the game, the nation, and the athletes”.
The self-imposed ban was brought to light when Nigeria’s women’s selection withdrew their participation from the upcoming FIBA Women’s World Cup in Australia later this year, with Mali tabbing in to replace them. Besides that, the Raptors president further warned about the possibility of the Nigerian men’s selection to miss the Olympic tournament in Paris in 2024.
“We know how we got here. Nigeria has traditionally treated sports as purely recreational, not for what it is, a serious business and a tool for nation-building and economic transformation. But we all know the drill.
“A tournament is coming. We hear there is no money. People scramble to put money together. Tournament commences and athletes are treated carelessly. Tournament ends. Athletes are angry. Government releases money at a later date. No accountability or transparency on how much was released and how it was spent. And the truth is that we’re not just speaking about basketball here”.
The troubles in Nigerian basketball stem from a power struggle at the national federation, which in January elected two presidents in parallel elections. The government has stated its desire to revamp all aspects of Nigerian basketball, including the domestic league, by appointing an interim council to head the NBBF until its concerns are handled.
“When is this going to change? In other parts of Africa, we’re seeing the impact of sports and infrastructure development in the advancement of the national agenda, while the Giant of Africa stands idly, engrained with decision-makers that lack the vision and expertise required to nurture the talent and abilities the country presents.
“When will a leader actually change this cycle? The time for change is now. I know all athletes, leaders and stakeholders in African sport will not give up on Nigerian basketball, and we will not give up on the youth. It’s time for us to move forward. We need a new slate and a new narrative.
“To do this, all of the leaders that have held on to the realms of the Nigerian Basketball Federation for the past several years must all step down. Enough is enough,” Ujiri concluded.