Come 1 February 2014, FIBA’s Central Board will announce the national teams that will be the recipients of the four wild cards to complete the field at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Fifteen national teams from across four FIBA zones submitted their applications for the wild cards. They all participated in their respective 2013 continental championships which are qualifying tournament for FIBA’s flagship event in Spain next year (30 August-14 September 2014).
The 15 candidates are: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela.
In the lead-up to the decision on 1 February, FIBA is looking at the chances Nigeria in making it to the global championship.
Recent history in international competitions: Nigeria finished the First Round of AfroBasket 2013 undefeated with wins over Mali, Congo and Cameroon and then knocked off Central African Republic in the Round of 16.
But the Nigerians were bounced in the Quarter-Finals by Senegal, 64-63. They lost to Cape Verde and then eventually claimed seventh place by easing past Morocco. The disappointment in Cote d’Ivoire came one summer after Nigeria went through the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament and reached their first-ever Olympics at London 2012, where they registered one win over fellow African side Tunisia.
Nigeria have collected six podium finishes in African basketball, coming in second in 1997, 1999 and 2003 and third in 1995, 2005 and 2011. The Nigerians have played at two editions of the FIBA World Championship, taking 13th place in 1998 and 14th in 2006.
However, Tijjani Umar, the President of the Nigerian Basketball Federation, NBBF, took time to make his country’s case for receiving a wild card. Below are excerpts of Umar’s defence during a chat with FIBA.
FIBA: What are the three main reasons that Nigeria deserves to receive a wild card to participate in the 2014 FIBA World Cup?
Umar: Firstly, our team have a pool of sustainable talents in some of the best basketball leagues around the world that can perform and compete against the best at the highest levels of the game (i.e.the Olympics and the FIBA Basketball World Cup) and our best players have committed to play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup if we are invited.
Secondly, the quality of our team was demonstrated in 2012 when they became the first African team to qualify to any Olympic basketball event from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) since its inception and a chance to play in the World Cup with our exciting style of play will improve competition and television viewership.
Thanks to our team’s recent performances, basketball is now the second most watched sport after football in our country of over 140 million people. Thirdly, no African team before has enjoyed a wild card invitation to the FIBA Basketball World Cup and it will be a great honour to be the first, especially as our formidable team at Afrobasket 2013 failed to qualify directly largely due to a depleted roster caused by major injuries and the players are itching to redeem the team’s profile.
FIBA: If given a wild card, how competitive can we expect Nigeria to be and how confident are you that the team will feature all its leading/best players?
Umar: If given a wild card, our team will present their best-ever roster for maximum impact and our team captain has written a commitment letter on behalf of his colleagues which is enclosed in our bid document.
FIBA: How will having your national team play at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup help the growth, development and popularity of the sport in your country?
Umar: Our team playing in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup will translate into tangible benefits for the growth and development of the game by way of the guaranteed mass television viewership and popularity attracting more investment in basketball from sponsorships (our Premier League sponsor DSTV/Supersport will be interested to show our team’s games to more than 40 African countries. Just, as they do our league games) and deployment of the additional resources to the provision and improvement of basketball infrastructure and establishing basketball academies to secure the future of the game in our country.
The team’s World Cup status will also further compel government to improve basketball funding at the critical formative (school) levels.
FIBA: What do you consider as the greatest moment in your country’s basketball history?
Umar: Without a doubt, the greatest moment in our country’s basketball history was when our men’s team qualified for the basketball event of the 2012 London Games from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela and along the way defeating Greece and Lithuania which were ranked fourth and fifth in the world.