Haiti hoped this competition would be its basketball comeback. Then came bad news.

PORT-AU-PRINCE

Haiti had been absent from the international basketball scene for nearly 40 years.

So when the country made its official comeback last week by beating national teams from Barbados, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, and Bermuda at the International Basketball Federation AmeriCup Caribbean 2021 Pre-Qualifiers in Suriname, the undefeated run made news even in World Cup-crazed Haiti.

All hopes of a championship season, however, were quickly dashed. Twelve hours before the semifinals, the Haiti national basketball team was booted from the competition by FIBA Americas, which cited its rule governing nationality. Only one player on a national team can be a naturalized citizen, the rule says, and he had to have done so prior to his 16th birthday.

Haiti, which is appealing the decision, is trying to rebuild its program virtually from scratch in a country where indoor facilities are limited and U.S. visas are hard to come by.

We have a 37-year absence on the international stage,” said Steeve Polycarpe, general secretary of the Haitian Basketball Federation, the sport’s governing body in the country.

Polycarpe concedes that nine of the 11 players the team took to Suriname were born outside of Haiti. But they are Haitian, he said, noting that the players’ parents are Haitian and, under Haiti’s law, that entitles them to a Haitian passport. They are not naturalized Haitians, he insists.

“We went with our Constitution,” he said. “They are Haitian. But the way they’ve taken this decision, they are deciding for us who is Haitian. … You cannot decide for a country who is or isn’t Haitian. Their mother is Haitian, their father is Haitian, that makes them Haitian.”

Furthermore, Polycarpe said some Haiti-born players who the federation had hoped would make the national team, were barred from attending a June tryout in Miami, where the team’s roster was finalized, after the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince refused to grant them visas. Tryouts were held in Miami because Haiti lacks adequate sports facilities.

“Before we registered for the competition, we sent them everyone’s file, including their Haitian passports,” Polycarpe said, referring to FIBA and its disqualification decision. “The only thing they wanted to know if any of them had ever played for the United States. They wrote to [USA Basketball], which confirmed that these guys had never played for the U.S. in any category.”

Even more perplexing, said Polycarpe, is that after forcing Haiti to forfeit, FIBA said it had to play against Saint Lucia or risk being fined up to $25,000 and banned from future FIBA competitions. “I just don’t understand,” Polycarpe said. Haiti played the game and won.

“Haiti had accepted to play under the condition that the eligibility of its players, and consequently of the Haitian national team’s game results, would be examined during/after the event,” FIBA spokesman Simon Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson did not respond to criticism that FIBA — which also had to deal with a wild brawl that involved Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker during a World Cup qualifying game between Australia and the Philippines on Monday — was overstepping its role by telling a country who is or isn’t a citizen.read more Miamitight

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