The CNMI’s men’s and women’s national basketball teams cried foul on the new eligibility rules that will be implemented in next month’s Micronesian Games in Yap and threatened to file a lawsuit against the Micronesian Games Council.
“We were beyond disappointed. We’re devastated upon learning the new rules,” CNMI men’s and women’s head coach Elias Rangamar said in an interview with Saipan Tribune, adding he will lose three key players in the aftermath of the changes.
The new rules state that for a basketball player to compete in the Micro Games, he or she must be a citizen and passport holder of the country he or she is representing. In the CNMI’s case, a player should be a U.S. citizen and was born here or a U.S. citizen and at least has a grandparent born here. In the previous eligibility rules, non-U.S. citizens can still represent the CNMI provided they meet the seven-year residency, while a three-year residency is in effect for other Micronesian athletes living here.
The new eligibility rules, which are only for basketball, were announced late last month after they were put into a vote based on FIBA Oceania’s recommendation. FIBA Oceania would want to use the Micro Games as a qualifier for higher competition (FIBA Oceania Championships, World Cup, and others) thus after being turned down in an earlier meeting with the Council, the former asked members to reconsider the sanctioning group’s suggestion.
“I am not against the new rules. What I am disappointed about is its timing. Why only now? We started our preparation early last year and made the selection a month before the proposed changes were put into a vote. In about two months, the Games will start and they made the announcement last month. I don’t get it,” said Rangamar, who expressed his dismay during the Northern Marianas Sports Association meeting.
Other NMSA member-associations were also caught off guard with the ruling and backed the CNMI teams and Mariana Islands Basketball Federation in asking NMSA president Michael White to make an appeal to the Council. Last Saturday, Rangamar said he received the appeal letter White wrote to the Council.
“I don’t know what will happen. But, we are planning to sue the Council for this unfair decision, for the aguish they have caused the team, our players,” the MIBF official said.
“It was very difficult to explain to the players that they will not be able to join the team after going through the selection process, attending the practices, and doing their fundraisers. Our heads were bowed when we discussed the situation. It was a very emotional meeting,” Rangamar said.
Scoring machine Douglas Schmidt and point guard N-Nesh are the members of the men’s team hit by the new ruling, while Lalaine Pagarao was the casualty from the women’s crew. Pagarao played for the CNMI in the 2014 Micro Games in Pohnpei and went to the Philippines last month to secure travel documents for the competition in Yap. Schmidt suited up for the CNMI team that played in the Pacific Mini Games in Vanuatu last year, while Siech is a familiar fixture in the island’s youth and men’s leagues.
“They (other players) feel the pain of the three players. If there’s something positive that came out of this, it’s the determination of the teams. They vowed to do their best for their teammates affected by the new rules,” Rangamar said.
Meanwhile, Saipan Tribune sent an email to Council president Bill Keldermans of Palau to shed light on the new eligibility rules, but he has yet to respond at press time,