Nigeria's FIBA World Cup at risk over lack of funds

Nigeria, captained by Ike Diogu, are set to depart late for the FIBA World Cup in China due to financial constraints. ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

Nigeria were the first country to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and they're on the brink of being the first team out, before the event even begins.

With less than two weeks to go, financial issues and player unrest threaten D'Tigers' participation at the basketball global showpiece in China.

Last Friday, a number of players took to social media to allege that their World Cup money had not been released by the Ministry of Sports, which is the team's only source of funding.

Both the timing and the co-ordination of the tweets - coming on the same day and by players retweeting each other - appeared to suggest that it was not exactly a spontaneous decision. 

Boston Celtics' Stan Okoye, Ekpe Udoh, Ike Iroegbu, and Gabe Vincent were among those who aired their grievances on social media, posting and reshaping the message.

They said: "It has been an honor and privilege to play and represent Nigeria in preparation for the FIBA World Cup.

"However, the sports commission of Nigeria refuses to release the money allocated to us for training, food, travel and equipment in order to properly prepare for the World Cup.

"It's made things very difficult as the president of the federation, coaching staff and even players have had to pay for everything personally.

"Hopefully, this issue can be resolved among the higher authorities as my teammates and I look forward to continuing our preparation and goal of reaching the podium at the 2019 FIBA World Cup." 

Initially scheduled to leave for China on Monday, General Manager Musa Adamu told reporters at the weekend that all of that is now up in the air. 

"I cannot tell you exactly when the team is leaving for China," he said. "The team is here in Nigeria but there are no funds available for now.

"The federation is looking to the ministry with the hope that funds will be released for us to leave." 

From the government's side, Olesade Adeshola, the Director General of the sports ministry, told ESPN: "We are working with the federation to resolve it. We hope it will be sorted out soon."

Other than football - and even that sport only really started attracting significant corporate sponsorship in the last four years, despite enjoying leadership status - all others struggle to secure any sort of corporate backing in Nigeria. 

Basketball, the second of the Big Three - athletics being the other - has not attracted any significant funding outside of government.

This, despite good showings at the AfroBasket, where both men's and women's teams are currently rated as the best on the African continent.

The men won the African title in 2015, finished second in 2017 behind hosts Tunisia, and are currently ranked eighth in the world by FIBA.

Only on Sunday, the women retained their title in Senegal following an epic confrontation against the host country in front of a packed house. 

These accomplishments have not been enough to secure non-governmental funding for the NBBF. This, in part, could be a consequence of the leadership issues which have plagued basketball over the past three years.

While the current leadership of the NBBF have settled in by default and are doing a good job of steering the ship into successful waters, that spectre lingers in the background. 

Nigeria President Muhammad Buhari has only just seen his ministerial nominees confirmed by the Senate, meaning the sports ministry has been without a substantive leader since the elections in May. That may have played a part in holding up D'Tigers' funding. 

It took the direct intervention of the Presidency for Nigeria's Africa Cup of Nations budget to be released. And even that was after the football team had already arrived in Egypt. 

These dire straits explain why Adamu went on to make a direct appeal to President Buhari - who was quick to congratulate the women on their Afrobasket triumph - to expedite action on the team.

"We have come a long way. We have a very good, ambitious and motivated team. We really hope that the president will try to help his children, his people and his own team to be able to participate in this World Cup through the Sports Ministry," Adamu said. 

Similar appeals have worked for other sports in the past. Basketball is big enough that raising such a ruckus will help. Eventually, the funds will be released, and the team will travel.

But the real question has to be why Nigerian teams need to repeatedly suffer embarrassment such as this ahead of major tournaments.