June 28, 2015

4th South Asian Basketball Championship is back on in Bengaluru after Karnataka High Court grants interim relief

Good news ahead! The Karnataka High Court has granted interim relief to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to host the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship in Bengaluru from July 3-5!

Satnam Singh Bhamara was one of the 24 names announced by the BFI to take part in a senior men's national coaching camp in Bengaluru this month, being held in preparation for the South Asian Basketball Championship in the same city. The only problem was that Satnam was never going to be there. The 7-foot-2 19-year-old phenom had other priorities, like making history for Indian basketball in other ways. On Friday, Satnam became the first Indian citizen to be drafted into the NBA when he was selected 52nd by the Dallas Mavericks at the 2015 NBA Draft. All of India - including other star basketball players in the country - erupted with joy.

While Satnam prepared for the big draft day, the other Indian star players who actually attended this camp in Bengaluru were stuck in a limbo. Where Satnam had succeeded as an individual, the government and the federation in India had failed the rest of the Indian basketball team. Despite winning the right to host the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship, organized by the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA), the political infighting between various BFI factions in India led the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to bar all official basketball events in the country. The SABA Championship - which would pit India against other South Asian nations and act as qualifiers for the upcoming FIBA Asia Championship - were scheduled to be held from July 3-5 at the Sri Kantaveera Stadium in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

It was the worst news possible for basketball fans in the country. From our side, we put up a brave face to show that - even if the government stopped the BFI - they couldn't stop Indian basketball, with the #CantStopIndiaBasketball social media campaign. Fortunately, the pressure from those within the legally-acknowledged faction of the BFI - Team Govindraj - were able to score a small victory for themselves just a week before the big tournament.

On the same day (India time) that Satnam was drafted into the NBA, Team Govindraj and the BFI received some good news of their own. The Karnataka High Court has allowed the faction of BFI presided by Karnataka's own K. Govindraj to host the SABA Championship. Indian players who have been at the camp were practicing and preparing under great uncertainty. With the tournament/qualifiers inching closer, this would be a great weight off their shoulders and a chance to focus on basketball instead of the bickering and the politics.

Let Gopalakrishanan R of Ekalavyas tell you more:

BFI Secretary General from the Southern Camp, Mr Chander Mukhi Sharma, hailed the High Court verdict, saying that it proved that the “Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs exceeded its jurisdiction.” He goes on to accuse the Sports Ministry of “damaging the prospect of the game in the country by unnecessarily, illegally and arbitrarily asking BFI not to hold the event.”
This immediately clears visiting team contingents to submit Visa applications online. However, going by the letter, it is next to impossible for Afghanistan to participate at this event, as they need to apply at least 60 days in advance... India will be without its key forwards and centres from Punjab: Satnam Singh... Amjyot Singh and Amritpal Singh are playing in Japan. It is also probable that veteran starters Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh will not be part of the line up, as both these ONGC are yet to join the camp.

India has other problems, too. The team currently doesn't have a head coach, since Scott Flemming left the country last month. While the rest of the country celebrates the potential for growth of Indian basketball following Satnam's achievement, the ground reality at camp in Bengaluru was that there was still a state of disorder and mess. Apart from being without a coach, the team continued to lack match practice without much international exposure and continued to practice and play on less-than-ideal basketball surfaces.

As it was earlier reported, the participating teams at the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship will likely be India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. With a depleted, distracted team, this may be the best opportunity for one of our rivals to spring a surprise and qualify ahead of us for the FIBA Asia Championship. India are still likely to be favourites, but they will need to be careful and remain focused if they want to avoid an upset.

For now, let's celebrate the Karnataka High Court's decision. The qualifiers are back on, and if India win, we will punch in our ticket for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, set to be held in Hunan, China, from September 23 to October 3. Let's hope that the Sports Ministry can do the right thing and lift the ban on Indian basketball events nationwide soon.

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