FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, announced earlier that a new format would be followed to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup beginning next year. According to FIBA, the change in format presents several benefits including home-and-away games to bring the games closer to the fans.
Under the new format, national teams will have to go through a very different route to make it to the Regional and World Championships that’s similar to the one used by FIFA for the Football World Cup.
One major benefit under the new system is that the 2019 World Cup in China will have a total of 32 teams, or eight more than the 24 in Spain in 2014. Of the 32, seven will come from the Asia-Oceania region, where the Philippines belongs. During the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in Manila, the top three teams namely Iran, the Philippines and Korea qualified for Spain. Of course, from the Oceania region, perennial qualifiers Australia and New Zealand also made it to Spain. But now in this new format, an additional two teams from the joint Asia and Oceania regions could move on to the next World Cup.
So how do we qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup? In the old system, the top three from the Asian Championship advance to the World Cup. And to qualify for the Asian Championship, one needs to win in the sub-zone tournament. In the Philippines’ case, it needs to get one of two slots allotted for SEABA or the South East Asian sub-zone. But now, the sub-zone tournaments have become a thing of the past.
So to make it to China in 2019, the top 16 teams in the Asia-Oceania region will be divided into four groups of four teams. Each team will play the other three squads in each group in a home-and-away format over three windows (November 2017, February and June 2018), with two games per window. After these three windows, the top three teams per group advance to the second round, where they would be divided into two groups (Groups E and F) of six teams each, with the results from the first round carried over to the next phase. The second round will have teams playing again in three more windows (September and November 2018, February 2019) on a home-and-away basis. The top three from each group then qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China, plus the best fourth team from either Group E or F, for a total of seven nations from the Asia-Oceania region. So instead of the regular Asian Championship where a single one-week event is held, the World Cup qualifiers are spread over six windows, from November 2017 to February 2019.
How about the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo? From the 2019 World Cup, seven nations will qualify for Olympics using geographical principles – two from the Americas, two from Europe, and one each from Asia, Africa and Oceania. Host Japan will be the eighth team. This leaves four more slots to complete the twelve-nation basketball event.The remaining top 16 nations from the 2019 World Cup plus two selected teams from each region can make it to Tokyo via four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT), similar to the one held in Manila two weeks ago.
Looking at the revised format, qualifying for the 2019 World Cup seems more attainable than before because of the additional slots. However, the home-and-away format spread over almost two years poses new challenges for the Gilas Program. The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) runs for about ten months, making it difficult for the country’s best ballers to be available for the FIBA games. This now makes the proposed Gilas Cadet program more logical, at least to cover for the qualifying games for the World Cup. If Gilas qualifies, it’s possible to reinforce the World Cup roster with select PBA players.
Earlier reports said there have been verbal commitments from some of the country’s top amateur players to skip the 2016 PBA Draft in order to join the Cadet program. If the likes of Kiefer Ravena, Ray Ray Parks, Mac Belo and Jio Jalalon can be part of the program, Gilas can fare well in this new FIBA format.