NBL to apply for critical worker exemptions for international players

New Zealand’s National Basketball League will this week finalise an application to Immigration New Zealand in the hope of being granted exemption for approximately 20 critical workers being permitted to play as international players in the upcoming Sal’s NBL season.

Entering its 40th season, the Sal’s NBL is one of New Zealand’s longest running national professional sports leagues. For much of the League’s history, the teams have been greatly enhanced by international players participating. If they can enter New Zealand in 2021, teams will be allowed two international players each.

Some of the League’s biggest names over the last four decades have been international players and General Manager Justin Nelson hopes that will continue.

“The value and importance of international players to our teams and the League is undeniable. These players are critical to the competition if we are to continue growing this League, and we are following every direction being provided to us,” said Nelson.

Past star-imports include the likes of Kenny McFadden, Torrey Craig, Ed Book, Casey Frank and Leonard King, amongst a long and glittering list. Many have gone on to become permanent residents and even play for the Tall Blacks.

“Like many industries, we also have critical workers that are invaluable to us. When it comes to the financial status of our teams in particular, the reach that these players have into the commercial space and community support for our game is incredibly important.

“The Sal’s NBL is also an international product now, especially with ESPN coming aboard last year, and we need to continue lifting our League by ensuring there’s international interest – imports help that significantly,” said Nelson.

The League will also be requesting admission for two coaches, including Rob Beveridge at the Southland Sharks.

“Rob is a great example of the talent and skill that will add so much value to New Zealand’s fastest growing sport, he is a world-class coach and the positive impact he will have on the game here in New Zealand will be enormous,” said Nelson.

The need for international players coming to New Zealand has also been heightened this year due to at least 18 of New Zealand’s top players being snapped up by Australian NBL teams and the late start to their season will see it clash with the first half of New Zealand’s homegrown league.

The ANBL have indicated their regular season might finish in May with finals to follow. The Sal’s NBL is scheduled to tip off on 24 April.

“There is no doubt the ongoing delays to the Australian competition will put pressure on the Kiwis there with respect to them being able to join their home league in time. The Australian NBL could run into June, which clashes heavily with us,” said Nelson.

“To be clear, we are fully supportive of our guys playing in Australia, it’s just unfortunate that their league has been continually pushed back this season to the point of it now clashing with the New Zealand competition.”

The Australian NBL teams have been permitted exemptions to bring in international players. The Sal’s NBL Showdown last year put a lot of Kiwis in the shop window for the ANBL and they have been snapped up, such as 2020 MVP and Tall Black Tom Vodanovich (Sydney Kings), Jordan Hunt (Cairns Taipans), Izayah Maurihooho-Le’Afa (SEM Phoenix), Isaac Davidson (NZ Breakers) and Taine Murray (NZ Breakers), to name just a handful.

“It’s kind of ironic that we are seeking support to bring players in because our best Kiwis have been taken out of the country. We don’t usually clash with the Australian competition, but it’s a different world right now. The number of Kiwis in the ANBL is almost the equivalent of two teams’ worth, so that’s another reason why we see the twenty international players as critical workers,” said Nelson.

“This year we also have the Sharks, Saints and Hawks coming back in after their absence in 2020, so locally it will be all hands-on deck with a huge number of local players getting an opportunity to play across the ten teams, but with the ANBL clash there has never been a time in the League’s forty-year history when the inclusion of international players has been more important than they are right now.”

The League’s submission for critical workers will go to immigration this week with a view to the players and coaches arriving in late March through to mid-April, in time for the competition’s April 24 tip-off.


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