FIBA spells out demands to JBA as deadline approaches

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

FIBA last week repeated its mandate that the Japan Basketball Association deadline for a merger between the bj-league and the NBL is Oct. 31.

This occurred in Spain, where the FIBA Basketball World Cup was held. In an interview with Reuters, FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann didn’t provide an in-depth analysis of the deeply rooted problems within the Japan Basketball Association and the mind-numbing impasse between the 13-team NBL (the JBL’s successor, launched in 2013) and the bj-league. But he made it clear that FIBA will not extend the deadline; the JBA has received an ultimatum from basketball’s world governing body.

Merging two leagues when the number of teams keeps changing is a factor that adds another layer of complexities to the mix. What’s more, people, companies and communities are protective of their own vested interests.

The bj-league, which was formed as a breakaway circuit separate from the JBA, had six teams when it began play in the fall of 2005, and has added new clubs every year since then — which is unprecedented, but also quite problematic for building a broad support base beyond several hundred hard-core fans, especially when individual teams used up to 12 home venues for their 26 home games last season.

Twenty-two teams will compete in the bj-league’s 10th season, which tips off on Oct. 4. In addition, two more expansion franchises — based in Nagasaki and Ishikawa Prefecture — have been awarded for the 11th season.

While Baumann has had ongoing dialogue with the JBA over the past year, including meetings in Tokyo, there remain, in the view of basketball’s world governing body, three critical changes — not just the merger — that must be sorted out before November.

In a detailed bulletin, which was released before the end of the Basketball World Cup, Baumann summarized the JBA’s biggest problem this way: “There are currently two existing and concurring leagues in Japan. One of them being under the control of the JBA and another one functioning away from under the JBA’s umbrella. This situation is in violation of FIBA’s General Statutes as the JBA no longer maintains full control and governance of basketball in Japan.”

To further explain its No. 1 demand, Baumann added; “The JBA’s internal organization and regulatory framework need revision to cater to point 1 above and a long-term strategic plan for basketball for the period 2016-2024 related to its national team programs must be put in place.”

FIBA also pointed out that the JBA’s inflexibility in scheduling youth events clashes with its own schedule. It has demanded that the JBA change that, too.

“Japanese high schools organize a significant number of competitions, some of them taking place during the period of international youth competitions as per the FIBA International Calendar,” read the statement’s No. 3 demand. “These high schools are therefore not willing to release young players to the Japanese youth national teams with the important negative impact that this causes on the development of basketball in Japan.”

FIBA’s three demands are nothing new. FIBA has maintained its position for years, and has repeatedly stated that Japan’s two men’s leagues must unite.

“In view of the above issues, FIBA has notified the JBA that, should it not proceed to resolving them by October this year, FIBA would be forced to suspend the JBA from FIBA until concrete solutions are found for the good development of basketball in Japan,” Baumann said in the statement.

“A suspension from FIBA is not a decision that is made lightly but such action, in addition to restoring the compliance of the JBA and its members with FIBA’s General Statutes, would also assist the JBA in ensuring that the basketball family in Japan can concentrate on the tasks above until at the latest 2016, when the qualification process for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo starts.”

Though it’s clear that the JBA’s inability to forge ahead has become a national embarrassment, will true leadership emerge in time to meet FIBA’s demands?

Or will a FIBA-issued suspension finally be the catalyst that’s needed for the JBA to clean house and bring in leadership that will make necessary changes?

The clock is ticking.