Sports Minister Shamfa Cudjoe said the National Basketball Federation of TT (NBFTT) must get its house in order.
Cudjoe was speaking to Newsday on Tuesday, two days after NBFTT president Jason Hills held a meeting with players in Pleasantville where he delivered a double blow to local basketball.
He confirmed reports that his organisation had failed to register the men’s and women’s teams for the 2023 FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup and that TT’s men’s 3x3 team, which placed fourth at the 2022 AmeriCup, would not be competing at the May 6-7 FIBA 3x3 World Cup qualifiers in Israel.
Hills said the NBFTT was unable to pay the US$1,500 per team registration fee for the AmeriCup because it was unable to access the organisation’s accounts. Hills and the rest of the NBFTT board came into power after defeating incumbent president Claire Mitchell and her slate in the January 13, 2023 NBFTT elections.
However, Mitchell has washed her hands of the issue, telling Newsday on April 21, “I do not see how no access to funds could be the reason why the teams were not registered. The outgoing executive left $75,869.24 in the bank when we vacated office on January 14, 2023.
“The details of the NBFTT banking information was handed over via e-mail from the outgoing general secretary...on January 16, 2023. The new executive has not changed signatories or accessed any of the bank accounts to date...The question is why didn’t the new executive prioritise accessing said funds.”
Asked whether it was customary for the transition between administrations at a national sporting body to take so long, Cudjoe said, “I’ve never seen it take so long in my five years as Minister of Sport.”
She added, “It’s an internal issue that needs to be sorted out amongst themselves. We cannot intervene. The board is autonomous. We can only provide support.”
Cudjoe told Newsday that the basketball federation reached out to the ministry on March 24, 2023 requesting a meeting.
“They explained they were getting problems accessing the account. That’s almost two-and-a-half months after winning the election; that handover should have happened smoothly....There seems to be more in the mortar than the pestle.”
Cudjoe said the NBFTT was told to submit an application for funding “and we would do our best to walk it through.”
She acknowledged that the ministry was willing to bend its rules to ensure the basketballers did not miss a golden opportunity.
She said sporting bodies are supposed to submit applications for funding three months in advance.
“They eventually submitted an application around April 18-23 and we told them we would walk it through to the board meeting. A couple days later they said don’t bother because we were replaced.
“So to say it’s a money issue, I want to be clear that it was not on our part. We tried to help them at the 11th hour.”
Cudjoe said the federation is doing a real disservice to the players.
“It’s unfortunate because basketball is a real grassroots sport. I know most people would say what are the chances, what are the odds that we would qualify, but it is more than just medals. We’ve had players make it to the NBA and college basketball.
“It’s about opportunities to redirect these players lives by going out there and meeting people and showcasing their talent. It’s unfortunate basketball still hasn’t sorted itself out.”
Cudjoe recalled the NBFTT, under Mitchell, having an issue last year where it was suspended by the TT Olympic Committee for non-compliance.
“Clubs and administrators need to restore the sport and the national governing body to some level of structure,” Cudjoe said, adding that there seems to a lot of personalities and egos involved.
“They are hurting young people. They need to sort themselves out.”
Contacted via e-mail for an update on the NBFTT's access to its account, Hills said on Wednesday that the NBFTT "is presently addressing that issue by writing to the bank with appropriate supporting documents." He said the NBFTT reached out to Mitchell "and now we are in a position to properly make attempts to access the NBFTT account."
Asked whether the damage done to local basketball warranted his resignation, Hills replied, "What happened could never be good for any organisation, and my resignation or any other board member's resignation is not the solution."
Using basketball as an analogy, Hills said the NBFTT is a team and it would take time before it begins to perform and produce results.