World Cup of Basketball wildcards handed out

BRIAN MAHONEY
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2014

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Flying high with the backing of Angry Birds, Finland received a wild card for the World Cup of Basketball on Saturday in a decision criticised for being more about business than basketball.

Traditional contenders Brazil, Greece and Turkey drew the other three spots to complete the 24-team field for this summer's tournament in Spain, basketball governing body FIBA announced at its meeting in Barcelona. The draw is Monday.

Greece is ranked fifth in the world and the only team to beat the US since Mike Krzyzewski became coach in 2005. Turkey is ranked seventh and was runner-up to the Americans in the 2010 world championship. Brazil, which will host the 2016 Olympics, is No 10.

Finland is only 39th, the only one of the 12 teams since 2006 to receive a wild card that wasn't in the top 24. But it had the support of Rovio, the Finnish company behind the popular Angry Birds games that had agreed to provide advertising if Finland was selected.

"We are fully aware that despite our strong athletic results and fan support, we need to think creatively about how we can truly show our strength to FIBA and the basketball world," Antti Zitting, president of the Finnish Basketball Association said Thursday in a release announcing Rovio's support.

"As a small Northern country we cannot deliver the same type of TV audience as some other nations, but thanks to Angry Birds, we can offer an engagement platform that no other country can match."

FIBA lists economic aspects among the criteria for wild cards, which became part of the organisation's biggest tournament in 2006.

Secretary general Patrick Baumann noted Finland's recent success on the court but also its potential off it in a statement about the decision, citing the Finns' four victories over top-15 teams at the 2013 European championship and their strong fan support.

"The Finns are enjoying massive support with their fans traveling in big numbers to their games," Baumann said.

"The current growth of Finnish basketball is the result of a solid long-term strategy being executed by the Finnish Basketball Association and still has a lot of potential for development."

Russia, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, China, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Qatar and Venezuela were the other countries that had applied for wild cards. Italy and Germany had previously withdrawn their bids and China, which was considered a leading candidate to get one because of its population and passion for basketball, and Russia did Saturday morning.

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FIBA also announced it had lifted a ban on Senegal and would allow it to be in the tournament.

- AP

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