Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks and Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream won’t be able to play for Nigeria in the Tokyo Olympics after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) denied their appeal.
FIBA, the world governing body for basketball, had ruled that the two WNBA players could not suit up for Nigeria, as they have previously played for the US in FIBA events.
Ogwumike and Williams requested CAS to provisionally change their national status from USA to Nigeria, as FIBA eligibility guidelines state a player could potentially change national teams if it’s in the interest in developing the sport of basketball.
The players’ appeal was rejected by CAS, a FIBA statement said.
“Although both players had played for USA after the age of 17 and participated in the qualifying process to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (in February 2020 and September 2019, respectively), they recently requested an exceptional change of their national status, which FIBA declined under the applicable rules,” the statement read.
“In any event, the players would have to wait for a three-year period since their last game with the USA to be eligible to play at the Olympics, as per Bye-law to Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter.”
Ogwumike, 31, is the eldest of three sisters and was hoping to play for Nigeria after she was left off the US team, dealing with a knee sprain at the time the American team was announced.
With Team USA, she won gold in the 2014 and 2018 FIBA World Cups and was named 2020 FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament MVP. She’s never been selected to a US Olympic team.
Chiney Ogwumike, 29, who also plays for the WNBA’s Sparks and also has USA Basketball experience, was granted permission to play as a naturalized player for Nigeria.
However, Nneka Ogwumike couldn’t go that route because a roster can’t have more than one player that is a naturalized citizen, per FIBA rules.
The youngest sister, Erica Ogwumike, who played college basketball at Rice, is also on Nigeria’s roster. In 2020, she was drafted by the WNBA’s New York Liberty and then subsequently traded to the Minnesota Lynx. She never played in an WNBA game and chose to attend medical school.
The sisters’ parents were born in Nigeria and the sisters have dual citizenship.
Williams, whose parents grew up in Nigeria, was born in England and moved to the US in 1996.