Nneka Ogwumike's quest for Olympic spot ends after Nigeria appeal rejected

·3-min read

It's official. Nneka Ogwumike won't be an Olympian.

A last-minute appeal from the Los Angeles Sparks star to allow her to play for the Nigerian national team was rejected by the international Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday, FIBA confirmed on its website.

The decision ends the Olympic dreams of Ogwumike, now the only WNBA MVP to have never played on an Olympic team. An appeal from Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams was rejected on similar grounds. Both players had been trying to make the switch to the Nigerian team after missing the Team USA roster.

As FIBA explains it, the pair had both played for Team USA too recently to be allowed to play for Nigeria:

Although both players had played for USA after the age of 17 and participated in the qualifying process to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (in February 2020 and September 2019, respectively), they recently requested an exceptional change of their national status, which FIBA declined under the applicable rules. In any event, the players would have to wait for a three-year period since their last game with the USA to be eligible to play at the Olympics, as per Bye-law to Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter.

Both players are citizens of Nigeria as well as the U.S., with parents born in the country. Team USA had also given them permission to play for Nigeria.

Nneka Ogwumike wanted to play with her sisters after Team USA snub

Playing for Nigeria would have been a nice resolution for Ogwumike after an incomprehensible snub from Team USA, but that won't be happening.

Ogwumike was left off the Team USA roster last month despite an evidently worthy resume and several years of regularly playing for the team, triggering anger, confusion and accusations of a bias toward former UConn players for the team. Ogwumike had also missed out on the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, making the snub even mroe painful.

Team USA coach Dawn Staley cited a knee sprain as a concern, but even she admitted that Ogwumike was likely to be healthy in time for Tokyo. A significant hip injury also didn't keep 39-year-old Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi from making the team either.

With Team USA not an option, Ogwumike was added to Nigeria's provisional roster to play alongside her sisters Chiney and Erica for the country their parents immigrated from. That option was denied by FIBA just a week later, despite a regulation allowing the organization's secretary general to authorize a player to make such a switch if it is in the interest of the growth of basketball in that country.

Nigeria coach sounds off on Ogwumike denail

The Nigerian team has not been pleased with how the matter has played out, with coach Otis Hughley Jr. arguing an Ogwumike trio would have been a massive boon in an area where women's basketball still struggles.

From the Associated Press:

“Allow them the opportunity to help grow the game,” Hughley said. “That continent would just be turned on its head for basketball. In a good way, You have no idea how many lives would be impacted and changed for the ages.”

Hughley also seems to believe that Ogwumike's switch was rejected due to influence from other countries hoping to medal in Tokyo:

“They didn’t anticipate us being in that position,” the coach said. “So there’s some things going on that nobody sees and nobody talks about. It gets in the way of integrity. It’s gonna catch up with whoever’s doing that. It’s just dead wrong. I know FIBA is better than that. I’ve been part of them a long time; it’s a great organization.”

Per the AP, not a single African country has won a women's basketball game at the Olympics since 2004, when Nigeria went 1-5 in Athens.

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