The qualification process for Tokyo 2020 has reached crunch time in several sports, with basketball among those to have seen one of its Olympic tournaments take shape in the past couple of days.
Four separate qualification tournaments have been held to determine the final 10 teams that will compete in the women’s competition this summer.
Under the qualification format for Rio 2016, Olympic berths had already been secured by seven nations, with the hosts, World Cup champions and the winners of the five continental championships all able to make travel plans.
The remaining five places were then decided at a final qualifier.
Under the new format, continental success enabled teams to feature in one of the four qualification tournaments, with 16 nations taking part.
The events have served to trim the field for the final time, with 14 of the participants competing for 10 spots.
Already qualified, hosts Japan and 2018 World Cup winners the United States have added a further indication of what to expect come the Games, while their participation will help keep both teams sharp as the countdown clocks tick down.
While the tournaments received a spike in attention due to the coronavirus outbreak forcing the relocation of one of the four events from Foshan in China to Serbia’s capital Belgrade, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) believes a new competition system has provided greater exposure for the women’s game.
“We have seen last November and now in February our new women’s competition system in full swing," secretary general Andreas Zagklis said.
“We are very happy with what we saw in November and we have to wait until Sunday to make our first conclusions about the Olympic qualification tournaments.
“We have never seen women’s national team basketball with such frequent and high-level exposure before.”
Zagklis also highlighted that the top-tier FIBA EuroLeague Women competition is entering its final stages when explaining FIBA's efforts to boost the profile of women’s basketball at Global Sports Week in Paris.
Women in basketball was approved as one of three key pillars FIBA will prioritise at the organisation’s Congress in Beijing last year, along with the development and empowerment of National Federations and enlarging the FIBA family in terms of including new youth players.
Zagklis explained that FIBA's efforts would not just be confined to matters on the court, with growing the number of women involved in basketball going beyond playing the game.
“We are well advanced in the planning of some very specific and concrete steps, which will take to enhance the participation of more women in refereeing and coaching,” he said.
“I think we will be able to announce these at our Central Board meeting in March.
“We just had a competitions commission meeting where our women in basketball subcommittee sat down and created a number of proposals for our board.”
FIBA is also preparing for its largest increase in participation at the Olympic Games since women’s basketball was added to programme at Montreal 1976.
Basketball’s gold medal haul at the Tokyo 2020 will double from two to four when the 3x3 format makes its long-awaited bow.
The next step in the process comes in March, with Bengaluru set to host men’s and women’s 3x3 tournaments.
Three Olympic berths will be on offer in each event in the Indian city, as nations look to be among the participants when the discipline debuts at the Games.
I would argue the success of the 3x3 format has almost been understated in Olympic circles, perhaps partly due to being a “new discipline” at Tokyo 2020 rather than receiving the hype associated with “new sports” such as sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing.
Another factor is that 3x3 basketball has rapidly become a staple of multi-sport events over recent years, quickly becoming a crowd favourite at the “urban venues”.
The format has featured at the past three Summer Youth Olympics, as well as two editions of the European Games and appearances at the most recent editions of the Asian, Pan American and Pacific Games.
The event enjoyed a central location in the park used for the inaugural World Urban Games last year, before competitions were held at the World Beach Games in Doha.
When you add its plethora of multi-sport event appearances to the standard FIBA circuits for the event, 3x3 heads towards Tokyo 2020 as a must-have event on the programme rather than being the new kid on the block.
It is also exciting to see the wide range of teams who could compete at Tokyo 2020, when contrasted to your more established basketball powers in the traditional event. For a start, Mongolia are the top-ranked team heading into the men’s 3x3 qualification event.
Naturally these factors have left FIBA optimistic that the 3x3 tournaments will prove a success at Tokyo 2020.
“We are very excited that for the first time we will have our second discipline in the Olympics,” Zagklis said.
“We have received very positive feedback from the IOC [International Olympic Committee], Tokyo 2020 and broadcasters regarding the desire to broadcast 3x3 in their programmes. I think we will see some great basketball in those five days of 3x3.
“Tokyo 2020 is a big opportunity and we know Japan loves basketball, the excitement is at a very high level and ticket sales are going very well.
“We will have the biggest 3x3 venue at the Olympics, with nearly 7,000 seats.
“I think basketball and 3x3 will make a big impact at Tokyo 2020.”
With 3x3’s addition to the programme for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and a potential marquee venue mooted for Paris 2024, the future of the discipline looks a bright one.