For some time now Africa has been referenced in several ways; the land of opportunity, Africa rising etc etc. However, it’s high time the continent ditches these feel good cliché quotes and creates an environment of collaboration between the private sector and regulators.
This is perhaps a strange way to introduce a write up about basketball, but the recent issues facing the African Basketball League (ABL), an initiative set up by Nigerian basketball enthusiast and former NBA agent Ugo Udezue, certainly illicit such emotions.
What is the story one might ask?
Well for starters Ugo set up ABL with the aim of creating a Pan-African basketball league that would not only be a platform for young, talented basketball players across Africa to showcase their innate abilities, but a league that would contribute to the economic prosperity of Africa, in the same way the NBA has to the American economy.
All this sounds like a rather laudable project. It all started rather well too. The inaugural season featured 6 teams, three from Nigeria and one team each from Senegal, Cote D’ivoire and Gabon, who competed in a total of 32 games that included All-Star games. Average attendance for games during the league was about 3500 and the championship game, which saw Abidjan Ramblers defeat Lagos warriors, featured a performance by Nigerian artist Sound Sultan.
Expectations for season two soared on the back of season one. However, despite the high fives and sense of accomplishment, which the organisers of the league no doubt felt, the regulators, led by the Nigerian Basketball Federation and FIBA Africa declared that the league was illegal. The result of this declaration is that the much anticipated second season of the ABL is nowhere to be seen.
According to the FIBA website, among the reasons cited for the rejection of the ABL project is the fact that ‘FIBA did not receive any documents from ABL explaining its project’. Furthermore, FIBA Africa stated that it was unable to reach an agreement, even to run the project as a test.
FIBA did not receive any documents from ABL explaining its project
For such a great initiative to be held in limbo on such grounds is disheartening, not only because it deprives talented youngsters the opportunity to show what they can do on the court, but more importantly it highlights a concerning trend in Africa where regulators often create bottlenecks that discourage investors who are willing to raise the profile of ailing industries and sectors.
There has been very little in terms of official communication as to the start date of the second season and this has kept fans of the beleaguered league asking when the tip off will be through social media. In the meantime, Ugo has continued preaching the ABL gospel. In a recent interview with the CNN, he reiterated his aspirations for the ABL while cryptically stating that ‘Believe in Africa. Believe and don’t be frustrated with what’s going on. There’s going to be change, it’s coming. We’re going to do this here in Africa.’
Believe in Africa. Believe and don’t be frustrated with what’s going on. There’s going to be change, it’s coming. We’re going to do this here in Africa.
Maybe this suggests that negotiations are on behind the scenes to come to an agreement with the basketball regulators. It would be a shame to see such a great idea go down the drain. But then again this is Africa, stuff like this happens, sadly far too often.