The New Zealand National Basketball League (NZ NBL) Board and Basketball New Zealand has been receiving enquiries about last week’s ruling on Wellington Saints’ player Joshua Duinker. The following information outlines the issue and covers the answers to a number of those enquiries.
In 2015 NZ NBL player, Joshua Duinker, played for the Nelson Giants as a ‘Naturalised Player’. Mr Duinker was born and raised in Australia, and later gained a New Zealand passport and was believed to be eligible under FIBA rules to play for New Zealand.
In the 2017 NZ NBL season Mr Duinker was contracted by the Wellington Saints, again as a Naturalised Player. But at the beginning of March, the NZ NBL Board was made aware that Mr Duinker had player for The Netherlands’ national team in 2013 in an official FIBA competition, and is consequently ineligible to play for New Zealand. The NZ NBL Board reconsidered his status and ruled that he was in fact a ‘Restricted Player’.
As it stands, Mr Duinker remains eligible to play for the Wellington Saints as a Restricted Player. The Wellington Saints currently have one Restricted Player on their roster, who is Mr Duinker. They can still contract one more Restricted Player.
What are the eligibility rules?
There are four categories of players in the NZ NBL: Non-Restricted Player (players eligible to play for New Zealand in FIBA competitions), Naturalised Player (a person who has gained citizenship after their 16th birthday), Restricted Player (a player who is not eligible to play for New Zealand), Oceania Restricted Player (a player affiliated to a Federation in the FIBA Oceania region not including Australia or New Zealand).
Why do the eligibility rules exist?
Basketball New Zealand believes that the NZ NBL is very much a part of the player pathway for New Zealand players, where Tall Blacks and potential Tall Blacks can play and develop as players. For that reason, it is intended that NZ NBL teams have a majority of players that are able to represent New Zealand.
Given that Mr Duinker was not born in New Zealand, on what basis did the team’s and NZ NBL believe he was eligible to play as a Naturalised Player?
When Mr Duinker played for the Nelson Giants in the NZ NBL in 2015 he was classified as a Naturalised Player because he had obtained his New Zealand passport in December 2014 after his 16th birthday.
The Nelson Giants were aware that Mr Duinker was born in Australia, so clarification was sought that he had never played for Australia to ensure that he was not ineligible to play for the New Zealand team (and therefore be deemed to be a Restricted Player). That clarification was received from Australia. At the time, the Nelson Giants and the NZ NBL Board believed that Mr Duinker was still eligible to play for New Zealand because it was believed he had not played in an official FIBA competition.
In 2017 when Mr Duinker was contracted by the Wellington Saints, his player status was understandably thought to be the same as in 2015. There was no change in Mr Duinker’s circumstances between the 2017 season and the 2015 season when he played as a Naturalised Player, so there was no reason to expect any issue.
How did NZ NBL learn that Mr Duinker had played for The Netherlands and is a Restricted Player?
Before the 2017 season, the Canterbury Rams were considering an Australian player for their roster. The player had a New Zealand passport by birth, but had played for an Australian age-group team in a FIBA competition after reaching the age of 18. In February, the Rams requested that the NZ NBL confirm that a player of these circumstances would not be eligible to play in the NZ NBL as a Non-Restricted Player. When Mr Duinker was later announced on the Wellington Saints’ roster, the Canterbury Rams asked, prior to the start of season, whether the facts of Mr Duinker’s situation were any different to that of the player they had requested advice on, as they believed Duinker had represented the Netherlands.
Basketball New Zealand informed the Wellington Saints that Basketball New Zealand would enquire about the playing history and eligibility of Mr Duinker with FIBA. FIBA then sent notice that Mr Duinker had represented The Netherlands in an official FIBA competition and was consequently ineligible to play for New Zealand.
What has been the process behind deciding Joshua Duinker’s eligibility?
Upon learning of Mr Duinker representing the Netherlands, the Wellington Saints and the NZ NBL agreed that a lawyer would be engaged to assess Mr Duinker’s player status under the NZ NBL rules. The lawyer chosen was agreed to by both parties, and it was agreed that this was an independent and fair process to consider Mr Duinker’s status.
The lawyer determined as follows:
The NZ NBL Rules define ‘Restricted Players’ as players who are not eligible to compete for the New Zealand National Team under the criteria established by FIBA.
Under FIBA regulations a player, over the age of 17, with two or more legal nationalities who has played in a ‘main official competition of FIBA’ is considered as having chosen a national team and is therefore not eligible to compete for another national team in a FIBA competition.
In this case, because Mr Duinker played for The Netherlands in 2013, he was deemed to have chosen The Netherlands as his national team and he is not eligible to play for New Zealand.
This ineligibility to play for New Zealand means that he is a Restricted Player.
What can be done to stop this happening again?
The issue has arisen because no one asked Mr Duinker directly if he had played for another national team in an official FIBA competition. Clearly this question will need to be asked more directly by teams in future to ensure compliance with NZ NBL Rules. This will be required from 2018.
What about the Oceania rule?
Basketball New Zealand and Basketball Australia were asked by FIBA to help provide a better player pathway to other countries in Oceania. In the name of helping develop global basketball in our part of the world, NZ NBL agreed to add players who are born in a country (other than Australia) whose National Basketball Federation is affiliated to FIBA Oceania and has the approval of the NZ NBL to play in the League as an ‘Oceania Restricted Player’.
Teams have voiced some concern about this rule that there is no restriction on the number of Oceania Restricted Players. Consequently, all NBL teams have been aware since last year that the NZ NBL Board is considering modifying this rule in 2018 and possibly putting a restriction on number of Oceania players that can be in a team.
Joshua Duinker is a New Zealand citizen, why can’t he play for New Zealand?
Yes Mr Dunkier holds New Zealand citizenship, but by FIBA rules he has chosen the Netherlands as the country he represents in FIBA competitions. By NZ NBL rules, there may only be two players in a team’s roster who are not eligible to play for New Zealand, unless they are from the FIBA Oceania region (for reasons stated above).
The Wellington Saints taped over their shirt – what will the NZ NBL do about that?
It is within the NZ NBL Board’s power to carry out some form of disciplinary procedure, such as a fine. We understand that the Wellington Saints are upset with the ruling and that it may be restricting for them if they look to contract other players this season. For now, we accept their protest for what it is, a protest. As for the decision on Mr Duinker’s eligibility, it will continue to stand after a fair and robust process was carried out to review and determine his eligibility, and that process was agreed to in advance by the Wellington Saints.
The NZ NBL Rules can be found here.