Up till final week, the largest sporting achievement of South Sudan was qualifying for the FIBA World Cup.
That was no imply feat for the world’s youngest nation. Years of funding by former NBA star Luol Deng has seen them attain the top of the game with a core of gamers recruited from the South Sudanese diaspora, lots of whose mother and father have been displaced by the war for independence from Sudan and the civil battle that emerged after independence was received in 2011.
They topped that achievement by reserving a ticke to the Olympic Games on the FIBA World Cup, inflicting celebrations within the streets of the capital, Juba, and surrounding cities and villages.
Their 101-78 victory over African powerhouse Angola handed them the automated African ticket for Paris 2024. The followers who watched contained in the Nimra Talata Basketball Stadium danced and waved the nationwide flag in celebration.
“I’m so joyful that it’s occurring,” Deng informed DW at a welcome reception in Juba on Wednesday, the place the crew has been feted for its spectacular efficiency. “We play for greater than the sport. That is due to the love that we get and what it does to everybody.”
Deng, who moved to the UK together with his household as a younger refugee and represented the UK on the 2012 Olympics, was as soon as an All-Star within the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. However even he says that the accolades that the Vibrant Stars have obtained are distinctive. “I performed within the NBA, however I used to be by no means liked like that,” he mentioned.
A diaspora of expertise
Blessed with the peak and love of the sport — Manute Bol and Ring Ayuel being two of essentially the most well-known massive males from the nation — Deng noticed the chance the game might supply for nationwide development and rejuvenation as he gathered gamers from the diaspora to signify their homeland.
South Sudan performed their first official worldwide recreation solely six years in the past. In 2021, they certified for his or her first continental competitors, the Afrobasket, and completed seventh of 16 groups.
The Vibrant Stars fought via a stacked African qualification area and made it to their first World Cup this 12 months. Because the crew ready for the match, allegations of corruption dogged the sports activities ministry, who have been accused of mis-spending funds meant for transporting followers to assist the crew. However in Manila, the Philippines, they received three matches, together with in opposition to China and the hosts, to complete as Africa’s finest crew and choose up a Paris 2024 ticket.
“We now have gone from not being acknowledged on the earth to utilizing basketball to vary the idea of so many individuals about our nation,” mentioned Deng. “I am not saying that every part is 100% candy; there’s quite a lot of holes that also should be stuffed, and we acknowledge that.”
Assist wanted for sustainability
28-year-old ahead Nuni Omot, born in a Kenyan refugee camp as his mother and father fled the second Sudanese civil struggle earlier than settling in the US, described the unbelievable expertise. “I am simply very blessed and honored to have the ability to do that with my brothers. There is no different feeling like having the ability to convey positivity to the nation,” Omot informed DW.
“The media portrays South Sudan as a foul place, however for us to elevate the flag and present the positivity, clearly for the subsequent technology and generations to return, is historic and one thing that may’t be taken away from us.”
South Sudan has simply 4 out of doors basketball courts, with 11 extra beneath development. It’s the solely nation to have performed on the World Cup with out an indoor courtroom anyplace within the nation. The civil struggle had taken a toll on the expansion of sports activities and cultural actions, however now, their flag will fly excessive on the subsequent Olympics.
Nonetheless, a lot work nonetheless must be accomplished to create a sustainable basketball program at dwelling. Busara Rajab, a South Sudanese basketball knowledgeable who has coached a number of groups and gamers for 16 years, hopes faculties could be the pathway to rising the game.
“Any sport wants massive assist. If you need a participant to coach for six hours a day, you can’t discover it right here in Juba as a result of we do not have many fundamentals to assist us,” Rajab informed DW.
‘We’d like infrastructure’
The crew’s captain, Kuany Ngor Kuany, 29, raised in Australia, the place his mother and father fled when he was 9, added that correct amenities would assist homegrown gamers. “Hopefully, quickly, we’ll see the infrastructure that the federation constructed (throughout) the ten states,” he mentioned.
“However to get to that degree the place we’ve got homegrown expertise, we’d like much more infrastructure and indoor basketball courts for us to have the ability to compete on the elite degree.”
Arou Ramadan Chan, Deputy Secretary Normal of the South Sudan Basketball Federation, mentioned they’ve plans to make sure the sport grows at dwelling. “We are going to proceed pushing for that as a result of we all know that the identical crop of gamers taking part in for our nationwide crew has the identical DNA with these children in Rumbek, in Torit and Bahr el Ghazal,” Chan mentioned.
As Deng and his younger crew proceed to get pleasure from their celebrations, they’re already creating extra progress than South Sudan’s politicians have achieved for the nation.
Edited by Michael Da Silva