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China’s Yi Jianlian is surrounded by Nigeria defenders during their classification-round match on Sunday night in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. Yi scored a game-high 27 points but had little support from his teammates as China lost 73-86 and failed to earn direct entry into next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Photo provided to China Daily To say basketball is popular in China is to state the obvious. Despite the popularity of basketball, however, the Chinese men’s basketball team’s chances of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been all but dashed.

The fact that the Chinese men’s basketball team has played in all the nine Olympics since 1984 was not enough to earn it a place in Tokyo next year. Playing in the classification round for teams outside the top 16 in the on-going Basketball World Cup in China, the Chinese men’s team lost to Nigeria, Poland and Venezuela. And its wins against the Republic of Korea and the Cote d’Ivoire were not enough to take it to the Tokyo Olympics.

Although there is still a theoretical possibility of the Chinese men’s team qualifying for the 2020 Games via the Olympic consolation matches in June next year, the chances are slim because 24 countries from across the world, including such strong teams as Lithuania, Germany, and Turkey, will compete for the last four places in Tokyo. Which means the Chinese men’s basketball team is as good as out of the Tokyo Olympics.

What will be the impact of the disappointing performance of the team in the FIBA World Cup on young basketball players and those crazy about basketball?

It is a huge setback for the Chinese men’s basketball since basketball legend Yao Ming was elected as the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2017 and FIBA(or International Basketball Federation) reformed the rules for participation in the Olympics. The CBA reforms, however, will continue as Yao said after China lost to Nigeria 73-86 on Sunday.

Nevertheless, it is expected that the setback will make people better understand the importance of more children playing basketball so as to create a fertile base for the emergence of highly talented basketball players who can take the Chinese team to the World Cup and Olympics.

With a successful career in NBA, Yao knows how to carry out the CBA reforms. For example, since he became CBA chairman, basketball clubs have been making profits, the basketball market has been expanding, and club management has standardized. Although the effects of such reforms were not reflected in the Chinese team’s performance in the FIBA World Cup games, we are confident the team will demonstrate it in its future games.

Since eight Chinese cities are playing host to the on-going FIBA World Cup, basketball fans in many cities can watch world-class matches live. Still, more efforts need to be made to instill the competitive spirit among young basketball players and turn them into professionals.

Three factors are vital to the development of Chinese basketball.

First, we should abandon the practice of having two national teams. In spite of its importance for young players, it is not beneficial to the coordination and training of senior basketball players who are limited in their personal abilities, which would affect their performance in the international games.

Second, we should put more emphasis on honing the skills of teenage players. There is also a need to continue to cultivate basketball talents, especially in schools, off-campus clubs, interschool games and nationwide youth games.

Third, arrangements should be made to ensure talented players participate in high-level global competitions. Indeed, the Chinese men’s basketball team’s participation in the NBA Summer League is considered the first step toward building a more competitive team. But we also need to strengthen communication among players and coaches so they can more easily adapt to the rapidly changing international basketball scene.

It is noteworthy that Yao owned the responsibility for the failure of the men’s basketball team, and team captain Yi Jianlian displayed excellent skill and agility in the World Cup games. One also has to acknowledge that the reforms carried out by Yao have improved the men’s basketball team and helped it to win the gold at the 2018 Asian Games.

So we should regard China’s performance in the World Cup as a temporary failure in the course of Chinese basketball’s reform. And we are convinced that the men’s basketball team will perform much better in the future thanks to Yao’s comprehensive planning and persistent efforts.

The author is an expert on Olympic Studies. The views don’t necessarily represent those of China Daily.




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