Amid rising coronavirus fears, the new Basketball Africa League will postpone the inaugural games that had been set for this month, league chief Amadou Galo Fall told VOA.
“We have decided to delay the launch and we are planning to launch later this year as soon as we get more clarity about the situation,” Fall, who is also National Basketball Association vice president and managing director for Africa, said by phone from Dakar, Senegal on Thursday. The new league is a joint effort between the International Basketball Federation and the NBA.
The much-anticipated basketball league was gearing up to open with a full slate of games between teams in 12 African countries. In a promotional video produced for the launch of the BAL, retired Congolese professional basketball player Dikembe Mutombo praised the league’s potential to showcase African basketball talent.
“For so long we knew the continent of Africa was a continent full of treasure,” he said. “It was a question of time for those who want to go and find it.”
The timing, however, is now uncertain as the BAL hasn’t set dates for the start of the league, which includes teams from Algeria, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, Angola, Tunisia, Morocco, Madagascar, Mali, Cameroon, Mozambique and Rwanda.
Ogoh Odaudu, head coach of the Rivers Hoopers Basketball Club, a BAL team based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, said the postponement may have an upside.
“It is very disappointing but we, of course, we have to think about our safety first before anything happens,” he told VOA English-to-Africa's "Sonny Side of Sports" radio program. “And also, for us as a team, it is a blessing in disguise because now we will get more time to actually prepare more and let our foreign players blend more with the team.”
Odaudu said the team would resume practicing on Monday and he planned to take the team to Lagos to compete in friendly matches with other local teams.
“Instead of the two weeks, which we’d have had with our import players, we will have more time to blend, for the team to blend together,” he said.
The league is not alone in the world of sports in grappling with the virus. International tennis and golf tournaments scheduled to take place in China, Japan and Italy have been canceled. Italy has also postponed matches in its Serie A football league and may resume without allowing fans to attend. In some European football leagues, players are being advised not to shake hands as is customary after matches.
“It is a global situation as you know. Events and global meetings are being canceled all over the world so we are not immune to that,” Fall said.
Fall insists the delays are only a speed bump and the league will still be as successful as organizers had hoped.
“We are fully committed to launching as soon as the situation clears up. Nothing has changed. We are excited, the team is excited, the fans are excited and we are anticipating and looking forward to the launch of the league,” he said.
This story originated in the Africa Division with reporting contribution from VOA English-to-Africa's "Sonny Side of Sports" reporter Mike Mbonye in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.