This isn’t a typical half baked statement-headline intended to draw attention and get people to read only to find out the headline was nothing but a teaser for a story that lacks substance. There is always a silver lining for every dark cloud even for situations as bad as those caused by the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic little over a year ago. Economies grounded to a halt as the wheels stopped turning with millions and millions of people stuck at home due to varied lock down measures imposed in various countries.
However, this dire economic situation gave nature respite from relentless pollution while buffering the quest for the world to go carbon neutral in half a century’s time. People didn’t need to board cars and burn fossil fuels incessantly coupled with ancillary polluting acts (noise pollution from honking of car horns) in their quest to get to offices to work when they could get their jobs done from home.
2020 was shaping up to be a great year for basketball in Africa with the launch of the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) taking center stage following a partnership between FIBA Africa and the world’s richest, popular and best basketball league-the NBA. 2020 also came on the back of Africa’s debut foray into the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup with Nigeria setting the bar before succumbing to Team USA in 2018. COVID 19 struck and struck hard making it tough to play games and have fans witness them in person earlier on but things are getting better now.
The effects of the pandemic forced the final round of qualification games to the 2021 African Nations Basketball Championship (AfroBasket) to be played at single locations in Cameroon (Yaounde) and Tunisia (Monastir). The new format caused a ton of inconvenience for many a country but it had a ton of benefits for Ghana which sadly wasn’t capitalized on as Ghana failed to compete in the pre-qualifiers to stand the chance of making it to the main qualification phase.
The most obvious benefit had Ghana made it to the main qualification stage, would have been linked to economics. Playing at a single location without jetting to and from Accra would have saved the country a lot of money that would have otherwise been spent to cover travel costs especially considering FIBA’s plan to boost basketball’s fan base in Africa.
Home and Away games were played to determine qualification to the 2019 Men’s Basketball World Cup in China (five African teams competed in China) and qualification to the 2021 AfroBasket was originally planned to be played across four windows over a 15 month period but the pandemic shortened that time period and altered the format.
Another potential benefit Ghana missed out during the COVID 19 peak period was the chance to actually compete at the highest level of international basketball on the continent. Without an international standard facility to host FIBA sanctioned competitions, the single locations mini tournaments played in a bubble setting offered Ghana a chance to play in a neutral place where home court advantage (fans, “home calls” from game officials) was all but absent.
It is no coincidence Kenya booked its place at the AfroBasket for the first time in 28 years thanks to a shock win over continental powerhouse Angola. Had the original format stood with home and away games, there is a high level of doubt Kenya would have been able to get the all important win over the 11 time African Champions. Kenya’s neighbor South Sudan got its first in the AfroBasket as the youngest country in Africa bagged its progress to the tournament for the first time. After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan will play in Kigali, Rwanda from August 24 to September 5 with its illustrious son Luol Deng leading the charge.
14 of 16 slots at the AfroBasket have been picked up and 12 of the 14 qualified nations played at the last AfroBasket held in 2017 with South Sudan and Kenya being the exceptions. The latter pair capitalized on the unique situation presented by the virus and parlayed it into historic marks as Kenya’s Liz Mills became the first female to lead a male national team to the AfroBasket. Ghana’s very slow progress in basketball at all levels means it is very unlikely, the West African country would be able to overcome the conditions that come with life getting back to pre COVID 19 times and make it to the AfroBasket or any upcoming international tournaments.
Kenya made a move and struck it rich as did South Sudan but Ghana missed out because it failed to make a move even in a year that suggested the former Gold Coast should have.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter