Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams will not compete for the Nigerian national team when it opens Olympic play against Team USA on Tuesday after their appeals were denied by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the trio of WNBA All-Stars, all of whom are dual citizens with Nigeria and the United States, are continuing their battle to play for Nigeria.
"I still have a lot of pride and high hopes for the Nigerian team as it is composed now," Nneka Ogwumike told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne. "So, maybe this time around, I won't be a part of it directly, but I certainly do hope that I can be in the future."
They could potentially play for Nigeria at the 2024 Paris Olympics, and in international tournaments during the three years until then, including the World Cup. And it would continue to even the scales of basketball talent around the world.
Ogwumikes, Williams plan to continue Olympic appeal
Nneka Ogwumike, the Los Angeles Sparks forward and 2016 WNBA MVP, was left off the USA roster for a third Olympic cycle and petitioned to play for Nigeria. Williams, an Atlanta Dream veteran, also petitioned to play for Nigeria in a process that had been in the works for a year.
Both were cleared by USA Basketball to join Nigeria, but their petitions were denied by FIBA because of their longstanding association with Team USA. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) denied an appeal from the players that asked they be allowed on Nigeria's roster until the CAS ruled on their case. None will compete in the 2020 Olympics.
Chiney Ogwumike, also of the Sparks, was cleared to play by FIBA, but as a naturalized citizen. Countries are only allowed to carry one naturalized citizen on the roster, which would have created a problem for adding the ESPN host's older sister and Williams.
Appeal based on growing game in Africa
The three argued that FIBA's secretary general can approve their change in national team status since its charter states "if this is in the interest of the development of the development of basketball in this country."
FIBA has emphasized its goal to grow the game worldwide this decade. Nigeria made its Olympic debut at the 2004 Athens Games and is in only its second Olympic tournament in 2021. It is ranked No. 1 in Africa, but 17th in the world. No African nation has won a medal in either the men's or women's tournament.
The players are also petitioning that their status should be full citizenship since they are children of parents born in Nigeria. Chiney told ESPN, "I think the fight has just begun." She said being told she is not Nigerian "is not fair to my family or my heritage or myself."
Williams calls fight about 'the principle'
Williams, a gold medalist with Team USA's youth and senior national teams from 2009-'19, was cleared by USA Basketball in January 2021.
"It's really about the principle now," Williams said, via ESPN. "We're still going to keep appealing and fighting because I think people need to understand there are a lot of us that have dual citizenship. Even if we grew up here, our households look very different than what people think, and that part of us is very real."
All were on Nigeria's provisional roster and Williams played in a pre-Olympics exhibition tune-up against the U.S.
The Ogwumikes are vocal about their Nigerian roots and spoke of developing basketball in Nigeria. Chiney visited Nigeria while at Stanford and served as a volunteer coach for an organization looking to help children in poverty. She told ESPN she saw young girls play on an uneven court and without shoes. She wants to improve the conditions and expand the game, she said.
Erica Ogwumike, the youngest of four basketball-playing Ogwumike sisters, is suiting up for the country in Tokyo. Nigeria and Team USA open their preliminary schedule on Tuesday at 12:40 a.m. ET on USA Network. The full schedule and a list of WNBA stars on Olympic rosters can be found here.
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