It looked like for the first time in several decades, the senior National basketball championships to be held here from January 7 to 14 will be without the Services men’s team, which has won the title a whopping 29 times.

However, the champion team was included in the tournament roster after the decision was taken late on Friday night. Also making a late entrance is the Indian Railways teams (men & women).

BFI secretary Chander Mukhi Sharma took the call after reading the explanatory mail by Railways Sports Promotion Board (RSPB). For the record, Railways women have won the crown 27 times, and its men’s unit nine. “We had been in touch with BFI. We did raise a lot of issues. BFI has been gracious in allowing us to participate. We are very happy,” RSPB secretary Rekha Yadav told Sportstar .

Even a couple of days back, BFI had requested the respective Sports Promotion Boards of Services and Railways to release the players for the senior Nationals provided they agree to pay the affiliation fees (with penalty & arrears) to BFI after the Government of India recognises it and assure BFI that they would not take part in prize money tournaments not recognised by BFI, among other things.

Railways sources said there had been a miscommunication with BFI as the latter had not seen the reply sent to the president’s (BFI) personal mail.

It’s a relief that the issue has been sorted out.

Which means Services too should be allowed to take part in the Nationals in the same plane. Speaking to Sportstar , BFI secretary Sharma had said, “Services has not addressed the issues which we wanted them to.”

With funds from IMG Reliance not forthcoming since 2015, the Managing Director of Arise Steel, Aadhav Arjuna, who was roped in as the chairman of Pondicherry Basketball Association last year, has come forward to sponsor the tournament, much to the relief of BFI.

With fog affecting several parts of northern India, teams such as Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, UP, Haryana & Himachal Pradesh (all men & women), Uttarakhand (women) will be arriving (by train) in Chennai only on Saturday (January 7) morning.

The future of some of the banned players, who took part in the “unauthorised” third edition of the UBA pro basketball league is likely to be discussed at the AGM of the BFI scheduled here on January 14.

Twenty-seven men’s teams and 26 women’s teams will be taking part in the championships. The top-three in Level-1 will progress to the quarterfinal round, while the fourth-placed unit will play with the top-two from the Level-2 groups in the pre-quarterfinal stage.

Services allowed to participate

Basketball Federation of India has allowed the Services men’s team to participate in the Senior Nationals on the condition that no player from the third edition of the UBA pro league plays. BFI Secretary Chander Mukhi Sharma confirmed to Sportstar in as many words. “There will be no UBA players in Services,” he said. “They (Services) have also agreed to pay the affiliation fees.”

Curiously, the Indian Railways men’s team has a handful (around five) of players, who had taken part in the UBA pro league. And they all have landed here. Some BFI officials admit it will set a wrong precedence if Railways or any other State team with UBA players in it, are allowed to play. However, Railway sources categorically said that without UBA players, the Indian Railways team will be a sub-standard one and if the ban is imposed by BFI, it will be better if the team doesn't play.

Indian Railways will take on Gujarat on Sunday. Meanwhile, BFI has formed a three-member committee consisting of V. Ragothaman as Chairman, Ajay Sood as Convenor and Norman Isaac, Chairman of Technical Committee, as member to look into the whole UBA issue. The Committee is likely to submit the report on Sunday morning.

The Groupings: Men: Level I: Group A: Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, Services; B: Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Indian Railways, Gujarat & Chhattisgarh.

Level II: C: Delhi, Chandigarh, Goa, Sikkim & Rajasthan; D: Telangana, Bihar, HP, Puducherry & Tripura; E: Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha & UP; F: West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh.

Women: Level I: Group A: Indian Ralways, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Punjab & Maharashtra; B: Kerala, Delhi, TN, West Bengal & Rajasthan.

Level II: C: Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana & Uttarakhand; D: Madhya Pradesh, Goa, HP & UP; E: Bihar, Chandigarh, J&K, Tripura; F: AP, Assam, Odisha & Puducherry.