FIBA, Manila organizers reflect on World Cup’s successes

None of the teams that medaled in the 2019 Basketball World Cup made the medal round at this year’s World Cup. And only two quarterfinalists from 2019 made the quarterfinals this year.

It represents almost unprecedented turnover, and FIBA doesn’t mind.

FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis, in his traditional end-of tournament news conference on Sunday, said basketball’s governing body is seeing the impact of recent decisions to increase the size of the field to 32 teams and to have 80 teams be part of the qualification process for those spots.

“Parity is good,” Zagklis said. “It’s good because it means competitiveness. It is excellent if it comes together with a higher level of play all the time. What we have achieved is we have reached a greater depth in the roster of countries. Nine of the 32 that came to this World Cup did not play in the previous World Cup.”

The quarterfinalists in 2019: The U.S., Serbia, Argentina, France, Spain, Poland, Australia and the Czech Republic. Of those, only the U.S. and Serbia made it that deep into this year’s tournament. Spain, Argentina and France won gold, silver and bronze four years ago; Spain was ousted in the second round this year, Argentina didn’t even make the tournament and France was eliminated in Round 1.

“The decision to open up to 80 teams the qualification has changed global basketball on the men’s side,” Zagklis said. “There’s no doubt about that. I do believe that we have seen very high-level basketball.”

He also lauded the work that the three host nations — the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan — did to execute the event. Manila, Jakarta and Okinawa played host to first- and second-round games. The final rounds were played in Manila, and Sunday’s gold-medal game capped a 45-year wait for the basketball-crazed nation to play host to the title contest again.

“It’s pride that we were able to host,” said Philippine businessman and sports backer Manuel V. Pangilinan, who was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to Manila. “It’d been quite some time since 1978, 45 years. I just thought the Philippines deserved it again.”

He came up with an unusual strategy — spread the event out over three countries, because he thought FIBA would be reluctant to award a second consecutive World Cup to an Asian country after China played host in 2019.

“So, we had to be quite creative,” Pangilinan said. “We took a lead from FIFA because there was a time when Korea and Japan co-hosted the World Cup. We thought about this … and we had the sympathetic ear of Patrick Baumann.”

Baumann was FIBA’s secretary general until his unexpected death in 2018. He asked Pangilinan to lay out his vision, promising to listen with an open mind. In December 2017, the tri-nation bid was formally accepted by FIBA and the World Cup was awarded.

“And the rest is history,” Pangilinan said.

FIBA saw its single-game attendance record broken on Day 1 of the World Cup when the Philippines officially drew 38,115 — local officials contend the number of tickets distributed was even higher — for a game against the Dominican Republic. FIBA pointed to other successes from this tournament, such as a game involving Japan’s national team being that country’s most-watched television show this year, and huge rises in social media engagement and follower numbers compared to China 2019.

“What a tournament we’ve had,” Zagklis said. TIM REYNOLDS, MANILA,  MDT/AP

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