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‘Basketball Africa League completes the basketball pathway’ – Fall



BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall performs the ceremonial tip-off of the inaugural tournament on 16 May
BAL president Amadou Gallo Fall performs the ceremonial tip-off of the inaugural tournament on 16 May

When Amadou Gallo Fall performed the ceremonial tip-off for the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) he was nervous and determined not to freeze for the big moment.

For the players from across the continent and further afield the NBA-backed tournament was and will be be a chance to put themselves on the basketballing map.

“It is a dream come true, we have been watching the NBA as long as I have lived,” Zamalek and Egypt’s Anas Osama Mahmoud said.

“I have watched the Euro leagues, the Euro Cup and the European competitions for years, but to be a part of a championship and to be part of a league that is supposed to compete with these top leagues is a dream for all of us and for me personally.”

For Senegal-born Fall, a former NBA vice-president, a successful event was the next step in developing the sport in Africa.

“So many emotions. You realize the magnitude of the moment. It is bigger than all of us. This league is a lifestyle brand,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“Players are going to earn a living playing basketball without migrating somewhere else. For me it is exciting to see what the future holds.

“The basketball Africa league is now part of the pyramid, now we are going to focus to make sure we continue to build it, to strengthen it.

“It is going to be something that will be absolute best professional basketball league in the world for years to come.

“When young boys are dreaming about basketball journey, now they have a complete pathway to start dreaming, to start playing at an early age here and to be pros right here.”

The player’s views

Egypt's Anas Osama Mahmoud in action for BAL winners Zamalek
Egypt and Zamalek’s Anas Osama Mahmoud was named the Dikembe Mutombo BAL Defensive Player of the Year

Fall’s views are echoed by the players who took part in the first-ever BAL.

“The more experience the teams get, the more the tournament will evolve. I believe it is going to be something bigger than actually what people think it is,” added Senegal’s Ibrahima Thomas, who played or Malian side AS Police in Kigali.

“This is going to be huge for us, huge for future generation, it is going to be something.”

For Mahmoud, who was voted as the Dikembe Mutombo BAL Defensive Player of the Year, the new league gave him a chance to grow both on and off the court.

“It showed me what I lacked and what I can improve on moving forward in my career as a basketball player,” he explained.

“Away from the court – I have met so many people, made connections, I met people from NBA office, I met people from the FIBA Africa office. People who being in touch with will really help me move forward as a human being not just basketball.

“You will only play basketball for probably 10 years and after that you going to have to move on with your life and having connections, having people there you can really lean on for advice more later in life is something that I was looking forward to and I think they will definitely really help me.”

Big boost for Africa

Egypt's Zamalek celebrate winning the inaugural Basketball Africa League
Egypt’s Zamalek celebrate winning the inaugural Basketball Africa League

The BAL rosters featured players from 24 nations including 18 African countries, who see the BAL as a breath of fresh air for basketball on the continent.

“It was really a blessing to be the pioneers of the league it’ss a great chance to showcase that in Africa we can play basketball too. said Bush Wamukota from Rwanda’s Patriots BBC.

“This gave me a chance to prepare for Afrobasket too because most of these guys we played against are the most guys you will see in their different national teams,”

Ferroviario de Maputo’s captain Custodio Muchate feels that he is heading back to Mozambique a different player.

“This league will bring us to another level. Because we had a mix of players, from all over the continent and all over the world,” he explained to BBC Sport Africa.

“It is important for us here in Africa, we have guys like me it is the first time we are playing in a professional league so I have learnt many things here. I want to take these lessons and take to my country, to keep trying to develop more basketball.

“I have learnt that we have to do more.”

The future

US Monastir's Makrem Ben Romdhane takes a shot in the BAL final against Zamalek
US Monastir’s Makrem Ben Romdhane takes a shot in the BAL final against Zamalek

Fall is convinced that the success of the first BAL means that local leagues around the continent will be more competitive.

“I am excited how it is going to impact the local leagues. I bet you everybody wants to un-seat them (the 12 teams at BAL) to get a chance to play in the NBA’s BAL,” he pointed out.

“It’s going to have the ripple effect across the leagues and it can only elevate the game.”

Makrem Ben Romdhane from Tunisian side US Monastir, who lost in the final to Zamalek, admitted that despite the physicality of the games in the BAL there was plenty of talent on show.

“The difference is all the players try to be aggressive, physical. It is not like our basketball in Tunisia or basketball in Europe, where they prefer to set up the offense, they control the game, they control the rhythm,” he explained to BBC Sport Africa.

“But I have also seem everything. I see like really good shooter, really good players, many good coaches, really good defence, really good offense, so I am very happy to see this level of this tournament.”

Cheick Bamba Diallo, a point guard for Senegalese side AS Douanes, is excited by the exposure that the BAL offers.

“This will make Europeans teams to see what Africa really has,” he said.

“Back in the day European teams looked to Africa just to get tall guys for the defence but now that aspect will change if they watch the games they will see that there is a lot of talent here.

“And to be honest I think in few years players from Africa will probably rather stay here and play in their home country because this league is definitely going to grow.”

Some of the players are already hoping that the BAL can expand to feature more teams in the future.

“(In the future I’d like to see) More, and more countries, more and more teams and have this be eventually be a real brother or sister to the NBA,” said US player Brandon Costner, who was on the roster for Rwanda’s Patriots BBC.

“Maybe eventually we can have 24 or 26 teams, travelling throughout Africa, throughout different countries, and hopefully it is an engine for economic growth throughout the continent.”

Zamalek’s Mahmoud is keen for next year’s BAL which should see teams playing around the continent rather than at a single venue that was the case this time because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“We can touch so many hearts of young kids who are watching it through TV but let’s say if we go and play in Egypt for a couple of games in the league, I think that would really touch the hearts of kids,” he pointed out.

“Let them see it live and see how much basketball can change their lives.”

The 2021 All-BAL First Team:

  • Omar Abada (Monastir)
  • Walter Hodge (Zamalek)
  • Wael Arakji (Monastir)
  • Makrem Ben Romdhane (Monastir)
  • Anas Osama Mahmoud (Zamalek)

2021 BAL Awards:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon BAL MVP – Walter Hodge (Zamalek)
  • Dikembe Mutombo BAL Defensive Player of the Year – Anas Osama Mahmoud (Zamalek)
  • Manute Bol BAL Sportsmanship Award – Makrem Ben Romdhane (Monastir)

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France




South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News




Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy




PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.

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