Basketball

Japanese basketball granted host nation spots for Tokyo Olympics

Kyodo

Both Japan’s women’s and men’s basketball teams will compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games after the sport’s governing body decided Saturday to allocate them host nation qualification places.

The decision, taken at a meeting in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, ends a long saga for Japanese basketball which as recently as 2015 had seen its governing body, the Japan Basketball Association, banned by FIBA for its organizational shortcomings.

The Japanese men’s team will compete at the Olympics for the first time in 44 years, having last competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The women’s team will appear in its second straight edition.

For some time there were concerns the country’s teams would be denied a chance to compete on the Olympic stage, but FIBA’s decision ensures local fans will get to see Japanese basketballers compete with the best in the world in Tokyo.

“There has been a continuous stream of positive developments in the country’s basketball landscape in recent years, including the on-court success of the men’s and women’s senior national teams, the revamp of the B. League and making history by being part of the first-ever successful multiple-countries bid — together with Philippines and Indonesia — to be awarded the hosting rights for a FIBA Basketball World Cup, for the 2023 edition,” the International Basketball Federation said in a statement.

Japan’s teams will be among 12 men’s and women’s squads competing for medals in the tournament to be played over 15 days from July 26 at Saitama Super Arena near Tokyo.

FIBA also confirmed Japan’s places in the men’s and women’s 3×3 tournament, the “urban” basketball event that is making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Games.

Japan’s women’s team, the higher ranked of the two at 10th in the world, finished ninth at the 2018 World Cup, winning group games against Belgium and Puerto Rico before being knocked out by China.

Japan’s women join the United States in the Olympic tournament after the Americans claimed a spot by winning that World Cup title, beating Australia in the final.

The men’s recent last-gasp qualification for the 2019 World Cup in China may have proven pivotal in FIBA’s decision.

After starting World Cup qualification with four straight losses, the Akatsuki Five squad turned its fortunes around thanks in large part to contributions from Gonzaga University star Rui Hachimura, Memphis Grizzlies two-way NBA player Yuta Watanabe and veteran U.S.-born B. League player Nick Fazekas.

The team reeled off eight consecutive wins, including impressive performances against Australia and Iran, to scrape into the tournament to be played in eight Chinese cities from Aug. 31.

“For the promotion of Japan basketball, for the sport, (the) opportunity for the young players to play two times against that kind of competition — to play at the World Cup and Olympic Games — (is) a huge opportunity to try to work to get to the next level,” said Japan’s men’s head coach Julio Lamas after his team secured a spot at the World Cup.

Japan has never won a medal in basketball at the Olympic Games.

The men’s team has appeared at six editions, with its best finish being 10th, recorded in Melbourne in 1956 and as host in 1964.

The women’s team has a best finish of fifth, achieved on its Olympic debut in 1976. Since then, it has competed at three more Olympics, including the most recent in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the team finished eighth.