Basketball NZ forced to cut games for national teams

  • 16/02/2021

By Felicity Reid (RNZ)

Basketball New Zealand can't afford to attend all international tournaments this year and will have to break the news to the either the Tall Blacks, Tall Ferns or Junior Tall Blacks that it is game over.

A packed schedule which includes qualifiers for World Cups, Olympic Games and Asia Cups is too much for the national body to undertake in one financial year.

Several tournaments postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now on the calendar for 2021, and Basketball NZ chief executive Iain Potter admits his organisation faces some tough calls.

"We cannot - financially or logistically - afford to do everything that is on the calendar, and so at some stage in the next month, when we start to hit FIBA [deadlines] we're going to have to make some really difficult decisions," Potter says.

Basketball NZ is in discussions with senior players about which events to drop.

"Some events are linked, so if you don't go to one event you can't go to the next event and that has serious consequences," says Potter.

"With some of them have - if you don't complete your international commitments - there are fines associated with not attending, so the fines aren't insignificant," he adds.

"A number of countries including China, Korea and Canada have been fined by FIBA for not meeting their expectations, so we have to factor all those things in...we don't want to get into 2022 and as a result of the decisions we made we have nowhere to go for the next two or three years."

The Tall Blacks were initially due to play a series of Asia Cup qualifiers against Hong Kong, Guam and Australia in a bubble in the Philippines this month before tightened Covid-19 travel restrictions forced the cancellation of the series.

The teams are now under time pressure to complete the remaining qualifying games in the next five months.

"It's really important that we play the games because if we don't complete our commitments we don't qualify for the Asia Cup and if we don't qualify for the Asia Cup then basically we're out of the next four years of international basketball."

The Tall Blacks and Australian Boomers will play in Cairns on February 20 in a hurriedly arranged fixture, as both countries try to get through their qualifying games.

In a pre-COVID environment, it is a game that should have been played in New Zealand. The Tall Blacks beat the Boomers in Australia in February last year and the return fixture was penciled in for Auckland's Spark Arena during this month's FIBA window.

"We're having to make decisions that aren't optimal, but in this environment they're the best we can do," says Potter.

"Because in our view we have to get through to that next stage because it is the next stage that leads to World Cup qualification, potential Olympic qualification in 2024 and it keeps us playing against the best nations in the world and it keeps our commercial revenues coming. It's all interconnected."

Both teams will be second-string sides. The NZ team will be made up of players based in Australia, and the home side will be a young team of current or recent graduates from Basketball Australia's programmes based at the Australian Institute of Sport.

Quarantine rules and the current Australian National Basketball League schedule has ruled out the all of the regular Tall Blacks roster, but Potter says it was vital the game against the reigning Asia Cup champions went ahead.

Potter considered the stand-ins as saviours and hoped the basketball-loving public did too.

"We won't be putting our best Tall Black team on the floor and I know some people will feel like that's perhaps a cheap way to win a singlet," Potter confirms. 

"But in my view these guys we have asked to represent New Zealand, they're doing a job for New Zealand, which is to keep us in the qualification process, and I would rather hope that New Zealanders would say 'good on these guys heeding the call at this time when we really need them'."

New Zealand are top of group C in the Asia Cup qualifiers, after victories over Guam and Australia last year,and Potter says he's in discussions with his counterparts in Hong Kong and Guam about to make sure the outstanding games get played.

Basketball NZ would be prepared to host games or travel but Potter says both options were costly and complicated when it came to securing flights and Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) spots.

"We have to look for a solution that is several months out, commit to it as best we can and hope the COVID environment doesn't derail us, but we do have to find a way to do it."

Due to the change of schedule, Basketball NZ is facing nearly twice as many events in one financial year.

Outside of the Tall Blacks programme there is qualifying in May in Austria for the 3x3 teams for the Olympics.

The Tall Ferns' Asia Cup is in September. This tournament serves as the first phase of the 2022 World Cup qualification.

The Junior Tall Blacks (U-19 men) also have a World Cup decider against Japan and then the World Cup in July in Europe.