Fiba’s basketball nationality rules: Only one of the two native Americans can play for Uganda
On July 1, 2022, the Uganda men’s basketball team, the Silverbacks, will enter the third window of qualifying for the Fiba 2023 World Cup.
Undoubtedly, and I might be wrong, the team’s management must be debating who of the Phoenix Sun’s Ishmail Wainright and Barcelona’s Brandon Davies to choose as the one naturalized player authorized to play for them under Fiba’s Eligibility and National Status of Players’ Regulations.
Of course, every time they have been called upon, the two have earned the hearts of Ugandan basketball fans.
The fact that just one of the native Americans may play for the Silverbacks at any one moment stings Uganda.
The idea of Brandon Davis and Ishmail Wainright anchoring our front court would have been a sight to see and would have put Uganda in excellent stead against any of the continent’s basketball behemoths.
Sports organizations and their claims to autonomy have shifted their own “sporting nationality” away from what nation-state legal systems would ideally allow.
Where, for example, a government permits dual nationality, the Court of Arbitration for Sport emphasizes that “a person may have two or more nations, but every athlete may only have one athletic nationality.”
Ishmail Wainright is therefore Ugandan rather than American for sports reasons.
We missed seeing John Baliwigaire at his best at the 2015 Afro-basket, particularly because he was instrumental in getting us there. His clutch three-pointers at the MTN Arena in Lugogo were incredible.
The management team had to choose between him and Brandon Sebirumbi, with the latter being the simpler pick owing to his size advantage, which is generally the Silverback’s Achilles heel.
Baliwigaire was denied because the Fiba Rules prohibit a player from gaining the sports nationality of a country who may have claimed the nationality of that country at birth, even if they were born to parents who had that country’s citizenship, but did not do so until the age of sixteen.
This implies that at the age of fifteen, one should have obtained a passport from that country. Only one player from this category or naturalised is permitted to participate for a national team in a Fiba competition.
These restrictions have resulted in a sports injustice, which is why lesser African teams seldom upset the big boys in basketball, as is becoming regular in football, as we witnessed with Comoros upsetting Ghana at the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
Comoros was able to summon all of these French-based Comorian players who came to their aid. Fiba’s position is that it wishes to protect basketball’s integrity by avoiding “the unpleasant phenomena of professional players adopting the nationality of another country.”
Instead, it widens the gap in class between the recurring favorites and the underdogs in Fiba competitions.
This also raises the question: if the Nigerian basketball team, D’Tigers, and, more recently, the South Sudanese basketball team are full of Nigerian-South Sudanese Americans et al, how is it possible that all of those basketballers were able to get passports by the age of fifteen?
Fiba may have a lot to learn from Fifa’s eligibility standards, which are much more accommodating, maybe demonstrating why football is still the world’s most popular sport.
For the time being, we hope that whomever is picked between Brandon Davis and Ishmail Wainright for the Kigali window does not leave us wondering “what if,” as we want the Silverbacks the best of success, free of financial controversies in particular.