The qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup tipped off without South Africa. This is not good for African basketball.
South Africa withdrew because of financial problems. Keep in mind South Africa has the continent’s biggest economy.
FIBA selected Chad to replace South Africa for the tourney, which began Nov. 24 in Cameroon and Angola.
Sanele Mthiyane, president of the country’s basketball association, explained in a Nov. 7 letter to FIBA that there’s an “unavailability of funds and lack of support” from the country’s sports department and confederation and Olympic committee. He said they are in debt from playing in the AfroBasket tournament in September.
This is a bad look for several reasons. First, South Africa is a sports leader on the continent. It hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and now it can’t afford to send a team to Cameroon?
To ‘grow the game,’ which everybody talks about doing, it helps to have economic backing. Basketball is fairly new to South Africa and isn’t on the radar compared to rugby or soccer, but the country has more resources than most in Africa.
Finally, NBA Africa has its office in Johannesburg. It has held two “all star” games in South Africa in hopes of raising the game’s popularity. The NBA is also opening an academy, in Senegal, to train elite players from all over Africa.
The South Africans went 0-3 in the AfroBasket tournament in Senegal, including two blowout losses, so no one was expecting miracles in the World Cup qualifiers. Still, it would have been another step toward improving its national team program. The blog MyBasketball wrote in August that South Africa’s preparation for AfroBasket was nonexistent.
The top five squads from the 16-team tournament will qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China. Top finishers in China will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
South African players turned to social media in hopes of raising funds but it was too late.
Sportscaster Robert Marawa tweeted: “The rot around Basketball in SA cannot go unchallenged!! These players have had years of being treated like dirt!! It has to stop!!”
This story in the Daily Maverick spotlights some of the internal problems.
This reminds me of what Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, said about African governments and sports management when I interviewed him before the AfroBasket tourney.
Ujiri, a Nigerian who runs clinics throughout Africa each summer, told me for my Associated Press story: “We’re moving forward in technology, we’re moving forward in banking, we’re moving forward in real estate. While these things are getting better, sports are being left behind. How is that possible?”