COVID forfeit gives Cape Town Tigers BAL berth ahead of New Star

Albany State alum Jared Harrington. Cape Town Tigers

Cape Town Tigers say they have qualified for the 2022 Basketball Africa League [BAL], albeit in controversial circumstances after not playing their final qualifier, against Burundi team New Star.

The South African side were awarded a 20-0 walkover against New Star in the East Division third-place playoff. New Star suffered a COVID-19 outbreak ahead of what was supposed to be the decisive fixture in Johannesburg in December.

The official 12-team BAL lineup is scheduled to be announced on Feb. 8, but the Tigers wrote on Instagram: "Please drop a comment on our team's page @thecapetowntigers as they're the newest team on the continent to qualify for the BAL!"

Cape Town Tigers media officer Elvis Ukpong confirmed that they were awarded a walkover, as is reflected on the FIBA website. The winner of the game would have qualified for the BAL, with the loser missing out.

"If you check FIBA's website, you will find that the result of the match was recorded as 20-0 in favour of CT Tigers because New Star could not field a team due to the outbreak of COVID in their team," Ukpong told ESPN.

"The precedent was set in Kigali during the FIBA Afrobasket [2021] where Cameroon also forfeited a match [against South Sudan] because many of their players tested positive. FIBA therefore applied the same principle and awarded the points to Cape Town Tigers."

ESPN has seen a letter sent by FIBA to New Star, dated Dec. 11, 2021, confirming that the team from Burundi would have to forfeit the match due to a COVID-19 outbreak among their players and off-field personnel.

A further FIBA letter, dated Dec. 30, 2021 stated that New Star's appeal against Cape Town Tigers' walkover win had been unsuccessful. In the second letter, New Star were criticised for claiming that there had been bias in favour of the Capetonians, and for calling into question the accuracy of the COVID tests.

Patrick Ngwijuruvugo, New Star's Elite 16 coach, lamented the governing body's decision, telling ESPN that his team should not have been punished for a COVID-19 outbreak that occurred at the Elite 16 round held in South Africa.

"It's certainly not the problem of the COVID-affected team, but the problem of the organisers... We played the Cape Town Tigers in the group stage and we beat them," he said.

A source of frustration for Ngwijuruvugo was the fact that Cape Town Tigers had a positive test too, as confirmed by Ukpong. But New Star were the only team penalised as they had seven positive tests, including five for players, as well as one close contact.

It has been widely reported that Rivers Hoopers have been disqualified from the BAL due to the Nigeria Basketball Federation [NBBF] failing to effectively organise a national league.

Ngwijuruvugo told ESPN that New Star had not been offered a BAL slot in the event of Rivers Hoopers' disqualification, and said he did not know what to expect on that front.

He said: "I also saw on social networks that the team from Nigeria is going to be disqualified from the BAL. I don't know who is going to replace them."