New framework could cost Tall Blacks

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012

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A dramatic makeover of men's international basketball has major upside for the Tall Blacks, though will come at a significant cost, warns the new boss of Basketball New Zealand.

Governing body Fiba has announced a major restructure of the men's international calendar, with promises of a similar review of the women's game.

The upshot of the Fiba makeover that kicks in for 2017 will see the men's world championships - rebranded the "Basketball World Cup" - shift forward a year to 2019, thus avoiding a clash with football's global event.

The 2014 world cup in Spain will remain in its current format.

But the 2019 tournament will have a major format change, with the field extended from 24 teams to 32 and the Oceania confederation - essentially comprising Australia and New Zealand - recalibrated into a combined Asia-Pacific region.

Fiba also announced a new qualification process that will take place over two years, consisting of six "windows" in November of 2017, February, June, September and November of 2018 and February of 2019.

The new Asia-Pacific super-region will have seven spots for the 2019 World Cup, and a major qualifying process to get there.

In recent times the Tall Blacks and Boomers have automatically taken Oceania's two positions for the global tournament.

BBNZ chief executive Iain Potter, who has only been in the role for a couple of months, said the restructure had serious benefits for the New Zealand men's game, with one significant negative.

"Some people are anxious that a relatively easy path to the world cup has been made more difficult, but they shouldn't be,'' Potter said.

"Instead of just playing Australia, as we do now, we'll be in one of the biggest zones, with the chance to compete regularly against countries such as China, Korea, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Kazakhstan.

"We also hope it will lead to us having more regular appearances by the Tall Blacks in New Zealand, and a chance to rebuild their presence in the public's mind."

The downside?

"It does mean you have to go through more qualifying games, which will be expensive.

"At the moment we're playing Australia next year in a two-test series and both teams will qualify for the 2014 world cup (in Spain). But fast-forward a few years and we will have to play a rolling series of qualifying tournaments to qualify for 2019."That will not come cheap."

But Potter hoped those costs could be offset. "Hopefully we can look at sponsors who want exposure in Asia which is New Zealand's biggest export market."

The creation of Fifa-like "windows" in the middle of established seasons was also potentially problematic.

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"It is new territory, and I'm not sure that Fiba has quite the same authority as Fifa when it comes to these things," said Potter.

Put it this way, it's hard to imagine NBA teams releasing players for international qualifying fixtures.

If the women's game heads down the same path, Potter said the upside was even greater for the Tall Ferns who at present have their pathway to world championships blocked by Australia.

The Olympics remain a work in progress. Fiba has lobbied the IOC to increase teams from 12 to 16, and that's the major piece of work to get over the line.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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