On Monday, certainly to much pomp and fanfare, FIBA officials will announce the four “wild card” entries that will round out the 2010 World Championship field of 24. The world may indeed be watching, with basketball fans in up to 15 nations truly believing their national team will be named, but is this a serious case of overhyped ado about nothing or could we be surprised?
Aside from some actual on-court results, i.e. the given team must have played in its continental qualifying tournament (so so long Italy), FIBA officials congregating to hash this selection out will consider other aspects of the country’s national program. These include certain sporting aspects, economic aspects (read: marketing potential), and governance aspects. The detailed list may be seen here, but, again, think marketability.
The list of contenders is fairly-well agreed upon and should be mostly reflected by the FIBA rankings themselves.
(As an aside, please note that Ball in Europe in no way endorses the frankly often bizarre FIBA rankings. Seriously, Argentina above Spain *and* Team USA? Russia at no. 17, five spots below Angola? We could go on and on … in any case, we’ll work under the assumption that FIBA takes its own rankings into consideration in situations such as determining wild cards for international tournaments.)
To make this a bit easier. No, waaaaaaaaaaaay easier, let’s just fill the first two spots with Germany and Russia. Both countries are traditional basketball powers, both are top 20 ranked, and both have devoted fan bases willing to travel internationally to see their teams. Plus, Andrei Kirilenko’s already taking on Team USA in his mind. Russia, Germany: in.
Simple? The rest isn’t much more difficult, actually. Interbasket lists nine other apparently viable contenders for wild cards as:
• Cameroon (FIBA ranking 43)
• Dominican Republic (26)
• Great Britain (zero points and thus in a tie below no. 73 Liberia)
• Korea (27)
• Lebanon (24)
• Lithuania (6)
• Nigeria (22)
• Poland (55)
• Taiwan (41)
A Dominican Republic-based source claimed that, in meeting with Dominican national basketball representatives, FIBA Americas secretary-general Alberto Garcia mentioned Japan (FIBA rank 32) and Uruguay (29) were in the mix as well. And since at least one source has Israel (25) in the running, we’ll include them, too.
So if we include the contenders who have already qualified, we’ve mentioned 26 of the top 27 FIBA ranked teams (excepting Venezuela, who seemingly is not getting any consideration) and 27 of the top 29 (without Venenzuela and Qatar).
Now, since we must take into consideration the limit of wild cards to three from any continent, we’ll fill one spot with a non-European team: Namely, Nigeria. Africa has just three teams in the competition, Nigeria is the second-high ranked African team, and the team was upset by Cameroon in the African qualifying tournament. They’re in.
Finally, it’s gotta be Lithuania, right? Despite the awful washout in Eurobasket 2009 and the current state of rebuilding the national program, FIBA’s still got ‘em at no. 6. With Italy apparently not playing, there’s no way the organization would go without two top ten teams, would they? Or shirk one of the world’s great basketball cultures? Or make Sekla upset?
Of the remaining contenders, the case looks grim. The Americas are already sending five squads, including big boys like Canada and Puerto Rico and bigger boys in the US, Argentina, and Brazil. Do they get another spot? No. Even despite the allure of a Al Horford/Charlie Villanueva/Francisco Garcia teamup on a Dominican Republic side.
For sponsorship reasons, it has been hinted, it might be good to insert a Korea or Japan, but if the promising program of Lebanon seems like a longshot, is it fair to jump rank for money?
Unfortunately, this year, maybe. The sole sticking point for Lithuania, it seems, is money: “If FIBA’s main criterion is financial, then Lithuania has few chances,” one backer was quoted as saying. Apparently, what could fell Lithuania in 2010 is not a motivated group mate in pool play, but instead finding €500.000 in required fees.
While many may bristle at the prospect of a 24-team bracket laden with 10 European teams, the truth is it would be a shame to see a better program lose out and dilute the competition. Of course, worst of both worlds in this respect might be for Great Britain to sneak in solely on future hopes for their program; the IOC may be awaiting a British finish in a high-level tournament, but this probably shouldn’t be the one.