Basketball World Cup 2019: Fiba’s Andreas Zagklis on China, the NBA and 3×3

As China welcomes the year’s next major event from now until mid-September, Andreas Zagklis, the general secretary of global basketball governing body Fiba, shares his thoughts on the Basketball World Cup and the commercial issues that will shape the sport’s future.

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Over the next couple of weeks, a busy year of global sporting events moves into a new phase as the focus shifts towards Asia. From 31st August to 15th September, China will host the Basketball World Cup for the very first time. 

“We expect this to be the biggest ever, in the sense that we have expanded the roster of teams from 24 to 32,” says Andreas  Zagklis (right), secretary general of global governing body Fiba. “We’re playing in the biggest country in the world. So there is this size factor and at times we are even caught out a little bit by how big the event will be and how big the interest in the event is.” 

The tournament is being played across eight Chinese cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Donguan, Foshan, Shenzhen, and Beijing, whose 19,000-seater Wukesong Arena will stage the final. NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo heads a high-calibre line-up of international players, although some of the leading stars available to Gregg Popovich, head coach of defending champions USA, have given the competition a pass just a few weeks before a new league season.

Still, with coverage nationally on CCTV and distributed to 60 broadcasters in 160 countries, it represents a huge opportunity for sponsors including ball supplier Molten, apparel supplier Nike, Aeroflot, beer brand Yanjing, TCL, Tissot, Ganten, and Wanda.

“This is a country that likes basketball, and likes basketball not only when their own national team is playing,” adds Zagklis, who is speaking to selected media in London in July. “So in the venues we’re very optimistic about ticket sales, and the first signs were indeed very encouraging. In terms of global audiences, we will reach a volume of audience that we’ve never reached before.”


It is set to be a pivotal occasion for Fiba in particular. Not only is this the first World Cup to feature 32 teams, it is also the first in five years, after the four-year cycle of the competition was reset. Rebranded from the World Championship in 2010, it was played in the same year as the men’s Fifa World Cup and the Winter Olympics until 2014.

Meanwhile, that brings it into the same cycle as the Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup. The comparison with the sizeable commercial impact those events generate, despite involving sports that lack basketball’s global profile, could be instructive.

Fiba has been trying to heighten the focus on the World Cup throughout a 17-month qualification campaign that began in November 2017.

“We have been talking about this World Cup and created excitement through a qualification process through six windows,” Zagklis says, “and after all these games, Montenegro and Latvia were playing for qualification in the last shot. Uruguay and Puerto Rico the same. Puerto Rico sold out their last two games at home in less than two days.

“I do believe that we will see a very high level of basketball, and we will attract audiences, both on court and on the screen, like never before.”

We will attract audiences, both on court and on the screen, like never before

Andreas  Zagklis, Fiba secretary general

Taking the world to China

“The Chinese minister of sport, in the first 30 seconds of our meeting a few months ago, told me: ‘By the way, your sport is the most popular sport in my country,’” says Zagklis, who succeeded the late Patrick Baumann in Fiba’s senior executive role at the start of the year.

“I think the level of popularity is there. The level of talent and the level of top talent is something where I would say we’re getting there. Why I’m saying we’re getting there is because I have seen several changes in the last few years, several positives.

“We have the biggest ever star of that country in basketball taking over the reins of the federation and becoming head of the league at the same time. We have a league that is stronger, I would say, much stronger than it was ten years ago. So in that direction, I would say that we have seen progress.”

The growing influence of the massive Chinese market on sport is a given at this point, but for basketball, it is particularly significant. China is a rare nation where basketball is recognised as being bigger than soccer, while it has also been identified as the NBA’s second most important territory after the US. Fiba’s long-term ambition is to usurp soccer as the world’s team game, a difficult enough challenge that would be impossible to countenance without continued growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. 

China is a rare nation where basketball is recognised as being bigger than soccer

Rarely, if ever, has China staged a global sporting event like this on a national scale, rather than within a single city or region. Its potential as a future host of the Fifa World Cup will likely be up for popular assessment while, more pressingly, the tournament comes during a period of intense scrutiny over how the government will handle the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

The large distances, logistics and breadth of relationships involved have presented an unprecedented challenge for Fiba, which has also spread around pre-tournament events like the Fiba World Basketball Summit in Xi’an last October and the draw in Shenzhen in March. It can also call upon a significant local marketing partner in Wanda Sports’ Infront China agency.

On the court, the hosts’ progress will also be of considerable interest. For all the commercial development of the sport, China’s emergence as a competitive force in men’s basketball has not happened as quickly as might have been expected after the Beijing 2008 Olympics. 

“I would say, ‘Let’s wait for the World Cup,’” Zagklis suggests, when asked about their prospects. “Because we cannot pass judgement before this team performs at home in front of its audience against the 31 other best national teams in the world.”

Zagklis reports some productive discussions with Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) president and former Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming (right).

“We have and we will offer a lot of support there through not only the Fiba Academy that is making its first steps now, but also through a number of programmes and clinics that we have agreed with the CBA,” he says. “What I said to them in my first formal visit was that we’re not here to just deliver the World Cup and on 16th September we go home. We’re here to stay. And when I say we’re here to stay it means we’re here to support you tap the potential.”

China is the first of two consecutive Asian hosts of the Basketball World Cup and Fiba intends to build its presence across the continent.

“We go from China in 2023 to the Philippines – a basketball country, if you’ll allow me to use this term, they are so passionate about our sport – Japan and Indonesia,” Zagklis says. “And that’s why Fiba has in the continent of Asia, in the last years, opened two additional offices.

“Besides our original office in Beirut, we have an office in China that will remain after the World Cup with predominantly local staff employed by Fiba. We have started an academy in collaboration with a local partner so that in collaboration with the Chinese Basketball Association we can tap the other big potential, which is in China. And we have an office in Singapore now, where we have moved our original director of Oceania from Brisbane. And from there, he’s both managing the 22 countries of Oceania and the ten south-east Asian countries – where we have a population of one billion, approximately, and also a great opportunity to develop our sport.”

Screen grab: The Fiba broadcast strategy

In 2016 Fiba agreed a 16-year broadcast production and distribution partnership with Perform, now the DAZN Group. The €500 million agreement covers all Fiba events including continental tournaments and runs until after the 2033 World Cup, with China 2019 the first of the showpiece events covered.

“The way we have structured this deal is that Perform is our strategic partner and we are selling all these rights together,” Zagklis says. “The important thing is that we work in a governance model with them, where we have a joint committee that decides on these matters. 

“This is, in my point of view, very, very important because we have not just placed all the rights with someone who takes care of them. We retain a certain level of ownership and control over what is happening with our sport and, at the same time, we do have the experts on that doing the job in what they are experts in. It’s not me as the CEO doing something that should be in the hands of the experts in selling the TV rights.”

The partnership, Zagklis says, allows Fiba to “look to the future with certain stability”. He adds: “It is not a question of the minimum guarantees, necessarily, it’s a question of having a joint vision for the game and being able to invest.”


Alongside the rights sales relationship, the partnership led to the creation of Fiba Media, a joint venture which will be responsible for the production of a global feed for 5,000 live games during the deal’s term. DAZN Group has built similar operations with the European Handball Federation and women’s tennis’ WTA. 

Fiba Media will work with CCTV, Chinese digital media giant Tencent, Mediapro and camera supplier Gearhouse on the production of a worldwide SuperFeed for use by its broadcast partners. With eight production teams in place across China, there will be 20 cameras used during each game of the group phase and 25 from the quarter-finals onwards.

In addition, Fiba Media will be implementing augmented reality graphics in the closing stages and will wire referees with microphones to provide audio during decision reviews and other key moments.

“The production of the signal is a big decision in how your sport is being presented to the public,” Zagklis says, “and we’re very happy to have a number of companies that will collaborate with us on the production side and we will bring to that not only our experience from the previous World Cup but the experience that Perform and Fiba accumulated through these 18 months of qualification.”

Fiba and the NBA: A national team vision with the world’s top league

The success of the Basketball World Cup is part of Fiba’s long-held vision to put national team basketball closer to the heart of the sport, and use it to drive interest among casual sports followers.

“Whether it’s a Women’s World Cup or a Men’s World Cup,” Zagklis argues, “you can have access to an audience who are not hardcore basketball fans, and that’s where we believe the synergy with the clubs and why it’s important for a national team to play regularly through the year and not just for a few weeks in the summer. It’s important because we can bring the non-regular basketball fan to the venue, and a week after our clubs can really monetise this to their benefit.”

Convincing club organisations of the value of this approach has not been straightforward. In recent seasons, finding windows that work for European teams – where Fiba’s Basketball Champions League runs alongside the Euroleague – has been a particular challenge. Some national teams have not been able to secure players from their club employers for qualifiers, but Zagklis believes persistent negotiations will eventually deliver results.      

“I am a strong believer in this synergetic approach, that national team games and club games in the season benefit each other,” he says. “So following that phase, we will enter a phase of discussions where we need to see strategies gradually aligned. And if we align strategies, meaning that we understand that what we do is good for basketball and what the leagues are doing is good for the clubs but also the growth of the sport, then I think the way is open for solutions.”

Plenty of NBA stars will be on show at the 2019 Fiba World Cup

One league with which Fiba enjoys an increasingly strong relationship is the NBA, whose ever more cosmopolitan rosters will well represented at the Basketball World Cup despite the absence of some of the biggest American stars. Eager to broaden its own international footprint, the NBA has lent its support to a series of Fiba development initiatives under commissioner Adam Silver. For example, the two parties now collaborate on the Jr NBA schools programme around the world.

“I can say that when Fiba in an extraordinary congress in 2014 amends its statutes and includes the NBA as ex-officio member to the board,” Zagklis says, “and immediately after that the board includes the deputy commissioner of the NBA [Mark Tatum] on the executive committee, this cannot be opportunistic. This is a very strategic and conscious choice for us and for them, of course. 

“I think the key here, and the most important thing in the relationship between federations and leagues, is strategic alignment. Because by nature, the leagues are commercially driven entities and by nature we are not-for-profit, developmental entities. When we can find the right balance and strategic alignment, we can do great things together, and I think our mission of making basketball the most popular sports community, and the NBA’s vision of making their league a global product, is very much aligned. That’s why we have been working on more projects and more in-depth projects around the world.”

Announced in July, the 12-team Basketball Africa League is probably the most significant project the two have undertaken together so far. A 50:50 joint venture with backing from Nike and its Jordan Brand, the BAL will begin in March 2020 as the first official NBA league outside North America. For the NBA, it offers access to emerging markets and new talent. For Fiba, Zagklis says, it offers the promise of better employment opportunities for local players, and improved infrastructure that will benefit local organisations and Africa’s national teams. 

Women’s basketball and 3×3: New frontiers

Beyond this year, Fiba’s interest in the continued advancement of basketball will extend past the men’s game and the traditional five-a-side format.

“We will be looking more and more at the participation of women in basketball in the next years,” Zagklis says. “I have already given certain signals to the basketball family.”

The Fiba Women’s Basketball World Cup has stayed on the same four-year cycle it used to share with the men’s game, with the USA winning last year’s tournament in Spain and the next edition planned for Russia in 2022. Zagklis wants to highlight club and national team events across the board, and expects the women’s game to develop different international power centres.

“It is important to see more women coaching,” he adds. “Very important. It’s very important to see more women attending games.” For the past two years, national federations have also been allocated additional refereeing licences provided they go to women.

Encouraging growth in women’s basketball, Zagklis suggests, will partly be a matter of “smarter positioning”.

“It’s true that the commercial appeal is not what it could be, and that’s why I’m saying we need to take a closer look and work harder,” he says. “There’s no doubt about that. Then you have to walk the talk, not just say you will work harder. You need to see what steps need to be taken.”

Fiba’s other major push to extend the reach of the game is the half-court 3×3 format, which will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

“We have just started scratching the surface of it, I must say,” notes Zagklis. “On the elite side, it does offer possibilities to countries that don’t have such a big pool of talent or high-level talent to make it to the Olympics, and if you are one of the eight the medal is very close.”

Nations like Andorra and Mongolia have already been competitive at international 3×3 tournaments, with annual World Cups set to provide further opportunities. Zagklis expects a number of federations to switch resources to the shorter game in the coming years.

“On the grassroots side,” he adds, “this is our opportunity to bring the non-licensed millions of people who play basketball outside the club structure into the Fiba family through the platform. Every single player can have an account and a login, we play three against three, the six of us, and then we go online and register the result of our pickup game and we get ranking points. 

“Each of us has an individual ranking which may not be, at least mine is, not very high, and it’s the same ranking which starts from the number one player in the world all the way down to perhaps me.”

Fiba expect a number of federations to switch their resources to 3×3 in the coming years

Games are distributed by Fiba on YouTube, with the 15-minute play time generating interest among broadcasters. Nike is a founding partner of the 3×3 World Tour, with 2028 Olympic host Los Angeles set to host the finals of that tournament from 2020 to 2023. 

“I think they are interested in it not only because it is an Olympic discipline,” Zagklis says, “but because 3×3 has this urban flair that can be used in the big metropolises of this world to bring people into the centre of the city. We play basketball in closed venues, and usually these venues are not in the centre of the city.” 

But while 3×3 may represent the future for international basketball, the priority for 2019 is the full-sided game. Zagklis is bullish about the prospects for the Basketball World Cup.

“Our approach is quite clear,” he says. “We are a global game, that’s why we have a World Cup with 32 countries. And when I say we’re a global game, I mean it, we have excellent teams on all five continents. 

“We do believe that at a global level, this is if not the sporting event it is one of the sporting events of the year, and the only question is for us to deliver that and I’m very, very confident that we are going to deliver it.”

Over the next couple of weeks, a busy year of global sporting events moves into a new phase as the focus shifts towards Asia. From 31st August to 15th September, China will host the Basketball World Cup for the very first time. 

“We expect this to be the biggest ever, in the sense that we have expanded the roster of teams from 24 to 32,” says Andreas  Zagklis, secretary general of global governing body Fiba. “We’re playing in the biggest country in the world. So there is this size factor and at times we are even caught out a little bit by how big the event will be and how big the interest in the event is.” 

The tournament is being played across eight Chinese cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Donguan, Foshan, Shenzhen, and Beijing, whose 19,000-seater Wukesong Arena will stage the final. NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo heads a high-calibre line-up of international players, although some of the leading stars available to Gregg Popovich, head coach of defending champions USA, have given the competition a pass just a few weeks before a new league season.

Still, with coverage nationally on CCTV and distributed to 60 broadcasters in 160 countries, it represents a huge opportunity for sponsors including ball supplier Molten, apparel supplier Nike, Aeroflot, beer brand Yanjing, TCL, Tissot, Ganten, and Wanda.

“This is a country that likes basketball, and likes basketball not only when their own national team is playing,” adds Zagklis, who is speaking to selected media in London in July. “So in the venues we’re very optimistic about ticket sales, and the first signs were indeed very encouraging. In terms of global audiences, we will reach a volume of audience that we’ve never reached before.”

It is set to be a pivotal occasion for Fiba in particular. Not only is this the first World Cup to feature 32 teams, it is also the first in five years, after the four-year cycle of the competition was reset. Rebranded from the World Championship in 2010, it was played in the same year as the men’s Fifa World Cup and the Winter Olympics until 2014.

Meanwhile, that brings it into the same cycle as the Rugby World Cup and Cricket World Cup. The comparison with the sizeable commercial impact those events generate, despite involving sports that lack basketball’s global profile, could be instructive.

Fiba has been trying to heighten the focus on the World Cup throughout a 17-month qualification campaign that began in November 2017.

“We have been talking about this World Cup and created excitement through a qualification process through six windows,” Zagklis says, “and after all these games, Montenegro and Latvia were playing for qualification in the last shot. Uruguay and Puerto Rico the same. Puerto Rico sold out their last two games at home in less than two days.

“I do believe that we will see a very high level of basketball, and we will attract audiences, both on court and on the screen, like never before.”

Taking the world to China

“The Chinese minister of sport, in the first 30 seconds of our meeting a few months ago, told me: ‘By the way, your sport is the most popular sport in my country,’” says Zagklis, who succeeded the late Patrick Baumann in Fiba’s senior executive role at the start of the year.

“I think the level of popularity is there. The level of talent and the level of top talent is something where I would say we’re getting there. Why I’m saying we’re getting there is because I have seen several changes in the last few years, several positives.

“We have the biggest ever star of that country in basketball taking over the reins of the federation and becoming head of the league at the same time. We have a league that is stronger, I would say, much stronger than it was ten years ago. So in that direction, I would say that we have seen progress.”

The growing influence of the massive Chinese market on sport is a given at this point, but for basketball, it is particularly significant. China is a rare nation where basketball is recognised as being bigger than soccer, while it has also been identified as the NBA’s second most important territory after the US. Fiba’s long-term ambition is to usurp soccer as the world’s team game, a difficult enough challenge that would be impossible to countenance without continued growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. 

Rarely, if ever, has China staged a global sporting event like this on a national scale, rather than within a single city or region. Its potential as a future host of the Fifa World Cup will likely be up for popular assessment while, more pressingly, the tournament comes during a period of intense scrutiny over how the government will handle the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

The large distances, logistics and breadth of relationships involved have presented an unprecedented challenge for Fiba, which has also spread around pre-tournament events like the Fiba World Basketball Summit in Xi’an last October and the draw in Shenzhen in March. It can also call upon a significant local marketing partner in Wanda Sports’ Infront China agency.

On the court, the hosts’ progress will also be of considerable interest. For all the commercial development of the sport, China’s emergence as a competitive force in men’s basketball has not happened as quickly as might have been expected after the Beijing 2008 Olympics. 

“I would say, ‘Let’s wait for the World Cup,’” Zagklis suggests, when asked about their prospects. “Because we cannot pass judgement before this team performs at home in front of its audience against the 31 other best national teams in the world.”

Zagklis reports some productive discussions with Chinese Basketball Association president and former Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming.

“We have and we will offer a lot of support there through not only the Fiba Academy that is making its first steps now, but also through a number of programmes and clinics that we have agreed with the CBA,” he says. “What I said to them in my first formal visit was that we’re not here to just deliver the World Cup and on 16th September we go home. We’re here to stay. And when I say we’re here to stay it means we’re here to support you tap the potential.”

China is the first of two consecutive Asian hosts of the Basketball World Cup and Fiba intends to build its presence across the continent.

“We go from China in 2023 to the Philippines – a basketball country, if you’ll allow me to use this term, they are so passionate about our sport – Japan and Indonesia,” Zagklis says. “And that’s why Fiba has in the continent of Asia, in the last years, opened two additional offices.

“Besides our original office in Beirut, we have an office in China that will remain after the World Cup with predominantly local staff employed by Fiba. We have started an academy in collaboration with a local partner so that in collaboration with the Chinese Basketball Association we can tap the other big potential, which is in China. And we have an office in Singapore now, where we have moved our original director of Oceania from Brisbane. And from there, he’s both managing the 22 countries of Oceania and the ten south-east Asian countries – where we have a population of one billion, approximately, and also a great opportunity to develop our sport.”

Screen grab: the Fiba broadcast strategy

In 2016 Fiba agreed a 16-year broadcast production and distribution partnership with Perform, now the DAZN Group. The €500 million agreement covers all Fiba events including continental tournaments and runs until after the 2033 World Cup, with China 2019 the first of the showpiece events covered.

“The way we have structured this deal is that Perform is our strategic partner and we are selling all these rights together,” Zagklis says. “The important thing is that we work in a governance model with them, where we have a joint committee that decides on these matters. 

“This is, in my point of view, very, very important because we have not just placed all the rights with someone who takes care of them. We retain a certain level of ownership and control over what is happening with our sport and, at the same time, we do have the experts on that doing the job in what they are experts in. It’s not me as the CEO doing something that should be in the hands of the experts in selling the TV rights.”

The partnership, Zagklis says, allows Fiba to “look to the future with certain stability”. He adds: “It is not a question of the minimum guarantees, necessarily, it’s a question of having a joint vision for the game and being able to invest.”

Alongside the rights sales relationship, the partnership led to the creation of Fiba Media, a joint venture which will be responsible for the production of a global feed for 5,000 live games during the deal’s term. DAZN Group has built similar operations with the European Handball Federation and women’s tennis’ WTA. 

Fiba Media will work with CCTV, Chinese digital media giant Tencent, Mediapro and camera supplier Gearhouse on the production of a worldwide SuperFeed for use by its broadcast partners. With eight production teams in place across China, there will be 20 cameras used during each game of the group phase and 25 from the quarter-finals onwards.

In addition, Fiba Media will be implementing augmented reality graphics in the closing stages and will wire referees with microphones to provide audio during decision reviews and other key moments.

“The production of the signal is a big decision in how your sport is being presented to the public,” Zagklis says, “and we’re very happy to have a number of companies that will collaborate with us on the production side and we will bring to that not only our experience from the previous World Cup but the experience that Perform and Fiba accumulated through these 18 months of qualification.”

Fiba and the NBA: a national team vision with the world’s top league

The success of the Basketball World Cup is part of Fiba’s long-held vision to put national team basketball closer to the heart of the sport, and use it to drive interest among casual sports followers.

“Whether it’s a Women’s World Cup or a Men’s World Cup,” Zagklis argues, “you can have access to an audience who are not hardcore basketball fans, and that’s where we believe the synergy with the clubs and why it’s important for a national team to play regularly through the year and not just for a few weeks in the summer. It’s important because we can bring the non-regular basketball fan to the venue, and a week after our clubs can really monetise this to their benefit.”

Convincing club organisations of the value of this approach has not been straightforward. In recent seasons, finding windows that work for European teams – where Fiba’s Basketball Champions League runs alongside the Euroleague – has been a particular challenge. Some national teams have not been able to secure players from their club employers for qualifiers, but Zagklis believes persistent negotiations will eventually deliver results.      

“I am a strong believer in this synergetic approach, that national team games and club games in the season benefit each other,” he says. “So following that phase, we will enter a phase of discussions where we need to see strategies gradually aligned. And if we align strategies, meaning that we understand that what we do is good for basketball and what the leagues are doing is good for the clubs but also the growth of the sport, then I think the way is open for solutions.”

One league with which Fiba enjoys an increasingly strong relationship is the NBA, whose ever more cosmopolitan rosters will well represented at the Basketball World Cup despite the absence of some of the biggest American stars. Eager to broaden its own international footprint, the NBA has lent its support to a series of Fiba development initiatives under commissioner Adam Silver. For example, the two parties now collaborate on the Jr NBA schools programme around the world.

“I can say that when Fiba in an extraordinary congress in 2014 amends its statutes and includes the NBA as ex-officio member to the board,” Zagklis says, “and immediately after that the board includes the deputy commissioner of the NBA [Mark Tatum] on the executive committee, this cannot be opportunistic. This is a very strategic and conscious choice for us and for them, of course. 

“I think the key here, and the most important thing in the relationship between federations and leagues, is strategic alignment. Because by nature, the leagues are commercially driven entities and by nature we are not-for-profit, developmental entities. When we can find the right balance and strategic alignment, we can do great things together, and I think our mission of making basketball the most popular sports community, and the NBA’s vision of making their league a global product, is very much aligned. That’s why we have been working on more projects and more in-depth projects around the world.”

Announced in July, the 12-team Basketball Africa League is probably the most significant project the two have undertaken together so far. A 50:50 joint venture with backing from Nike and its Jordan Brand, the BAL will begin in March 2020 as the first official NBA league outside North America. For the NBA, it offers access to emerging markets and new talent. For Fiba, Zagklis says, it offers the promise of better employment opportunities for local players, and improved infrastructure that will benefit local organisations and Africa’s national teams. 

Women’s basketball and 3×3: new frontiers

Beyond this year, Fiba’s interest in the continued advancement of basketball will extend past the men’s game and the traditional five-a-side format.

“We will be looking more and more at the participation of women in basketball in the next years,” Zagklis says. “I have already given certain signals to the basketball family.”

The Fiba Women’s Basketball World Cup has stayed on the same four-year cycle it used to share with the men’s game, with the USA winning last year’s tournament in Spain and the next edition planned for Russia in 2022. Zagklis wants to highlight club and national team events across the board, and expects the women’s game to develop different international power centres.

“It is important to see more women coaching,” he adds. “Very important. It’s very important to see more women attending games.” For the past two years, national federations have also been allocated additional refereeing licences provided they go to women.

Encouraging growth in women’s basketball, Zagklis suggests, will partly be a matter of “smarter positioning”.

“It’s true that the commercial appeal is not what it could be, and that’s why I’m saying we need to take a closer look and work harder,” he says. “There’s no doubt about that. Then you have to walk the talk, not just say you will work harder. You need to see what steps need to be taken.”

Fiba’s other major push to extend the reach of the game is the half-court 3×3 format, which will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

“We have just started scratching the surface of it, I must say,” notes Zagklis. “On the elite side, it does offer possibilities to countries that don’t have such a big pool of talent or high-level talent to make it to the Olympics, and if you are one of the eight the medal is very close.”

Nations like Andorra and Mongolia have already been competitive at international 3×3 tournaments, with annual World Cups set to provide further opportunities. Zagklis expects a number of federations to switch resources to the shorter game in the coming years.

“On the grassroots side,” he adds, “this is our opportunity to bring the non-licensed millions of people who play basketball outside the club structure into the Fiba family through the platform. Every single player can have an account and a login, we play three against three, the six of us, and then we go online and register the result of our pickup game and we get ranking points. 

“Each of us has an individual ranking which may not be, at least mine is, not very high, and it’s the same ranking which starts from the number one player in the world all the way down to perhaps me.”

Games are distributed by Fiba on YouTube, with the 15-minute play time generating interest among broadcasters. Nike is a founding partner of the 3×3 World Tour, with 2028 Olympic host Los Angeles set to host the finals of that tournament from 2020 to 2023. 

“I think they are interested in it not only because it is an Olympic discipline,” Zagklis says, “but because 3×3 has this urban flair that can be used in the big metropolises of this world to bring people into the centre of the city. We play basketball in closed venues, and usually these venues are not in the centre of the city.” 

But while 3×3 may represent the future for international basketball, the priority for 2019 is the full-sided game. Zagklis is bullish about the prospects for the Basketball World Cup.

“Our approach is quite clear,” he says. “We are a global game, that’s why we have a World Cup with 32 countries. And when I say we’re a global game, I mean it, we have excellent teams on all five continents. 

“We do believe that at a global level, this is if not the sporting event it is one of the sporting events of the year, and the only question is for us to deliver that and I’m very, very confident that we are going to deliver it.”