MAJURO — For the first time in the history of Micronesian basketball tournaments — dating to the first Micronesian Games in 1969 — the Micronesian Games in Yap later this year will follow international eligibility rules for players.

This was approved last week, with a vote of six-to-one in favor by basketball federations in the Micronesian region, including the Marshal Islands Basketball Federation. Micronesian Games Council Chairman Bill Keldermans of Palau announced the results of the poll of Micronesia area basketball federations.

Basketball federations in the Micronesian region, which includes Kiribati and Nauru as well as the United States-affiliated islands north of the equator, have long followed a system of eligibility unique to this region because of the “Guam factor.”

Eligibility to play on a sports team in the region has been subject to a seven-year residency requirement for non-Micronesians and a three-year residency term for islanders. Following this formula, a Pohnpeian who lived in Majuro for at least three years would be eligible to play on a Micronesian Games team representing the Marshall Islands. By the same token, an American living on Guam would have to be there at least seven years before he or she could qualify for a Guam Micronesian Games team. This was done mainly to help smaller islands remain competitive with Guam by preventing Guam from stocking its basketball team with American military players living in Guam for short periods at one of the US military bases on the island.

The switch to FIBA eligibility rules changes this special system used in the Micronesian region. FIBA requires a player to be a citizen (with passport) of the country the player is representing. This would prevent an FSM or Palau citizen from playing on a Marshall Islands team, for example, and also will allow Guam and the Northern Marianas to include any U.S. passport holders on their teams regardless of duration of residency.

David Crocker, the executive director of FIBA Oceania, based in Australia, said this decision means the Yap Games will be the first time that FIBA eligibility rules have been applied to Micronesian Games basketball. The Yap games are scheduled for July.

One motivating factor for the change to approving FIBA eligibility rules was FIBA Oceania’s view that by not applying these rules, “non-compliant teams” should not be eligible to qualify to the Pacific Games, which are played under FIBA eligibility rules. This could mean that the gold medal basketball winner at the Micronesian Games would not automatically receive a birth at the next Pacific Games in 2019. In discussions between FIBA Oceania and Micronesia area basketball federations, Crocker indicated that three options were under discussion if the Micronesian Games decided against applying FIBA eligibility rules: No Micronesia team would qualify for the Pacific Games; an invitation could be made to Micronesia teams to compete based on recent performances; or invite the highest finishing teams from the Micronesian Games that had all of their Micro Games players eligible under FIBA rules.

The decision to make the switch to FIBA eligibility rules makes these options a moot point going forward for the Micronesia region. (Marianas Variety)