FIBA revises global formats

MANILA, Philippines - FIBA has transformed the qualifying process for the Olympics and World Cup into a home-and-away system starting in 2017, relegating the continental championships - which used to be held every two years - into a quadrennial event with only prestige at stake.

There were 28 FIBA Asia Championships staged since 1960 and the tournament was a qualifier for either the Olympics or the World Cup. In the 2013 edition hosted by Manila, the first three placers qualified for the FIBA World Cup in Spain last year. In the recently concluded conclave in Changsha, champion China qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics. It was the same qualifying system for the other continental championships, AfroBasket for Africa, the Americas, EuroBasket for Europe and Oceania.

But in 2017, the continental championships will begin to follow a four-year cycle. A qualifying system will be in place for the 2021 edition with home-and-away games on Nov. 25-Dec. 3, 2019, Feb. 12-28 and Nov. 23-Dec. 1, 2020 and Feb. 15-23, 2021. The 2017 continental championships will be the last staging of tournaments for the five FIBA zones of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Starting in 2021, the continental championships will be for only four zones of Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific as stand-alone tournaments, meaning they will not be qualifiers for either the Olympics or World Cup. The Asia-Pacific zone will include the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. The continental tournament for Asia will be known as the FIBA Asia Cup.

Qualifying for the next FIBA World Cup in 2019 in China will involve an "optimized" system consisting of two divisions - A and B - to reflect quality levels of national teams and assure competitive games. FIBA will divide teams based on results of previous tournaments.

Division A will be made up of 80 countries, 16 each for Africa, the Americas and Asia-Pacific and 32 for Europe. Division A teams will be required to conform to FIBA quality standards in terms of facilities and infrastructure and organization to host qualifying contests. The first round of qualifications will assemble four groups of four teams each to play three home and three away games on Nov. 20-28, 2017, Feb. 19-27 and June 25-July 3, 2018.

From the first round, the top three teams in each group advance to the second round of qualifications where there will be two groups of six. Teams carry over their win-loss records from the first round and play three home and three away games against teams they had not faced previously. The schedule for the home-and-away games will be Sept. 10-18 and Nov. 25-Dec. 3, 2018 and Feb. 18-28, 2019.

From the two rounds of qualifications will emerge the 32 countries to play at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. The allocation is broken down into five from Africa, seven from the Americas, 12 from Europe, seven from Asia-Pacific and the host nation.

For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the qualification for basketball will go through the World Cup. FIBA said universality will be a feature of the qualifying process for the Olympics with the guarantee that each continent will be represented. Seeded into the Olympics will be the top finisher from Africa, Asia and Oceania and the top two finishers from Europe and the Americas in the World Cup. The distinction between Asia and Oceania will be made for the purpose of continental representation in the Olympics. With the host nation, there will be eight teams seeded into the Olympics. The four remaining slots will be awarded to the winners of four separate Olympic qualifying tournaments of six teams each. The 24 teams to play in the three Olympic qualifying tournaments will be the 16 best remaining teams from the World Cup and two additional teams from the four zones proposed by each FIBA regional office. The four Olympic qualifying tournaments will be held in June 2020.

FIBA said the new format opens a new era for basketball all over the world to enlist 1,680 top players participating in 1,250 games with more than 140 national teams. The philosophy behind the format is to promote each country's national team as the "locomotive" for basketball with all-year visibility, increased media exposure and a clear pathway to participation in FIBA's flagship events.

"The new competition system will offer a unique opportunity for new countries and players to emerge through regular official games, playing in front of their home fans," said FIBA. "Regular visibility of the national teams throughout the year will bring increased media exposure and promotion, creating synergies with club competitions and enhancing the basketball commercial potential."

FIBA's vision is to turn basketball into the most popular sports community with the mission of bringing people together to develop and promote the game. FIBA's strategy is "to increase the number of people who like basketball, increase the number of engaged fans, increase the number of recreational participants, increase the number of FIBA licensed participants, develop stars, establish transparent roles and responsibilities, extend access to required resources on all levels, create efficient and skilful organization, encourage involvement and participation and grow satisfaction of stakeholders."

The new FIBA calendar cuts into the schedule of leagues like the NBA, China Basketball Association and the PBA. The only competitions that will not be in timing conflict are the continental championships in Sept. 2017, the World Cup in Sept. 2019, the Olympics in Aug. 2020 and the continental championships in Sept. 2021. The challenge for every country is how to prepare a national team for a qualifying tournament when players are engaged with their mother clubs in leagues.

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