FIBA threatens JBA with suspension for inaction over merger

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

It appears to be an ultimatum for the Japan Basketball Association.

Yasuhiko Fukatsu, the acting president of the sport’s governing body in Japan, revealed to the media on Wednesday that it was told by FIBA that it could face a suspension, which would ban participation in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments.

The biggest issue is that the two men’s leagues — the National Basketball League and bj-league — are coexisting. FIBA has urged the JBA to make changes, integrating the two leagues. This mind-numbing impasse has been on FIBA’s radar for several years now.

It seems that FIBA has no tolerance for JBA’s negligence on the matter any more, and gave it a clear deadline.

According to Fukatsu, who is to formally replace the current JBA president and former Prime Minister Taro Aso next month, FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann visited Tokyo late last month and told the JBA that it could face suspension unless it showed strong signs of progress for unification of the two circuits by the end of October.

This season, 33 teams competed in the two leagues, including 21 in the bj-league. Further expansion is planned for both leagues for the 2014-15 campaign.

The recent visit marked Baumann’s second trip to Tokyo to issue the JBA citations on the NBL-bj-league stalemate in less than half a year. Last December, Baumann was in the capital city and asked the JBA to at least clarify which is the legitimate top league in Japan.

Then, the JBA announced the planned formation of a professional league in 2016, with the integration between the two circuits in mind, in March. But there haven’t been signs of positive progress for the proposed league.

If FIBA suspends the JBA and its national teams from international tournaments, it would be a damaging blow for Japanese basketball. For the men’s and women’s national teams, it would have a negative impact on their preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Bureaucratic dysfunction has been a root cause of the JBA’s problems for decades. In fact, the Japanese Olympic Committee suspended the JBA in 2008 for its persistent infighting after amassing a debt of ¥1.3 billion from the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship in Japan.

Nevertheless, the idea of forming a JBA-approved professional league has actually been a topic for two decades. But despite countless discussions over the years, it’s never come close to being realized.

In 2004, the bj-league was formed as Japan’s first pro hoop circuit by groups that had lost their patience with the JBA. It had existed as an independent league outside of the association’s umbrella before the JBA recognized it in 2010 (meaning its players are eligible to be selected for national teams).

The JBA originally aimed for a merger between the JBL, the NBL’s predecessor, and the bj-league, for the 2013-14 season.

It didn’t happen, and the defection of the Chiba Jets from the bj-league to the NBL was the only move, with bj-league clubs not agreeing to join the new circuit because it was not a fully professional league.

And after all these idle, clouded years, many basketball analysts in Japan are pessimistic that the merger will ever take place.

Now, the JBA has its back against the wall. There’s probably no way out except for finally making something happen.

Fukatsu told reporters, “we are given the clear timetable and just have to patiently proceed (with the merger).”

Is this just an idle threat from Baumann to the JBA?

Probably not.

In Asia, the Philippines and Lebanon have previously been suspended by FIBA (both bans have been lifted) in recent years. After returning from its latest suspension in 2007, the Philippines finished as the runner-up in last year’s Asian Championship in Manila.

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