CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The Nigerian government did an about-face on Thursday and allowed its national basketball teams to resume competition immediately.
The decision to lift the ban on teams playing in international competitions came after an appeal to the government of the Basketball Federation of Nigeria and the “intervention” of former Nigerian international players, the sports ministry said . Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the return to play, the ministry said in a statement.
The Nigerian government withdrew its teams from international competition for a two-year period last month, citing a leadership struggle and other administrative problems within the national basketball federation.
This decision led to the women’s team losing their place at the World Cup in Australia in September. It is unclear whether the team will be able to regain their place at the World Cup after international governing body FIBA named Mali as their replacement. The Nigerian Ministry of Sports said it had recently spoken to FIBA.
The two-year ban also threatened the qualification of the men’s team for the 2023 World Cup. The World Cup qualifiers start again on July 1 and the Nigeria men’s team tweeted following the lifting of the ban he was “hustling” to see if he could now compete in the qualifying competition in Kigali, Rwanda.
The Men’s World Cup also serves as a qualifying tournament for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Nigeria risks missing out on both if they miss out on those qualifiers in Rwanda.
Nigeria’s men’s team is led by Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown and upset the United States in a warm-up game ahead of the Tokyo Olympics last year.
The government’s decision last month to withdraw teams from international competitions has been heavily criticized by players from Nigerian teams, but has also drawn backlash from NBA figures. Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, both of Nigerian descent, have expressed frustration with the leadership of Nigerian basketball.
The harshest criticism came from the men’s team, which tweeted earlier this month: “We hope that one day Nigeria will be ruled by a government free of corruption and greed. The future of Nigerian basketball is extremely bright and we are being held back by our leaders.”
There has been a long history of trouble at the Basketball Federation of Nigeria, but the latest issues relate to a leadership struggle after two separate presidents were elected to lead the NBBF in parallel elections. The Sports Ministry said lifting the ban was conditional on the NBBF fulfilling its commitment to work with the ministry to resolve all of its “issues”.