Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams won’t play for Team Nigeria in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after their appeal was denied by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday, according to ESPN. Last week, the WNBA stars were notified by FIBA that their petition to play for Nigeria was denied because they’d played for USA Basketball for too long. Typically, FIBA does not allow players who’ve competed for USA in major events past the age of 17 to compete for another country. The ruling came despite USA Basketball releasing both Ogwumike and Williams upon request.
Williams played for the Americans in 2018 FIBA AmeriCup, and Ogwumike won MVP in the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Ogwumike’s sister, Chiney, has been granted permission to play for Nigeria as a naturalized player, though her appeal to be recognized as a Nigerian, like their sister Erica, was denied. Each country is only allowed one naturalized player.
Ogwumike and Williams’ omission from Team Nigeria’s roster is heartbreaking for both athletes, but Nneka Ogwumike has had an especially tough summer. After suffering a knee sprain in June, she was cut from the American Olympic roster despite assurance she’d heal in time. She’d competed for Team USA in numerous FIBA World Cups dating back to the U18 2008 team, and was one of eight WNBA players selected to compete against top-10 college programs in 2019. Ogwumike is the only WNBA MVP to not play in the Olympics, and with her effort to play for Nigeria in Tokyo denied, the 31-year-old have to wait another three years.
Williams played in Team Nigeria’s exhibition game against Team USA on Sunday as she awaited the result of her appeal, scoring four points with four rebounds, one assist, two steals, and one block in 29 minutes. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike did not play in the 93-62 defeat.
After the game, Team Nigeria head coach Otis Hughley made a statement for why the duo should be allowed to play. “Allow them the opportunity to help grow the game,” Hughley said, according to ESPN. “That continent would just be turned on its head for basketball, in a good way. You have no idea how many lives would be impacted and changed for the ages.”
Unfortunately, FIBA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport wouldn’t let it happen.