XI'AN, China, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis stated that he was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by Chinese fans and affirmed China's hosting abilities during a Women's Olympic qualifying tournament (OQT) match between China and Puerto Rico on Sunday.
Even though the OQT held in Xi'an, running from February 8 to 11, coincided with the Spring Festival in the Year of the Dragon, Chinese basketball fans showed extremely high enthusiasm for watching the games, with over 5,000 fans attending each of the three game days and tickets for the China-France match sold out early.
BASKETBALL ENJOYS HIGH POPULARITY IN CHINA
"The days of festivities for the new Chinese year is an incredible achievement for the federation and the local authority. I would like to thank them, the city of Xi'an and of course CBA [Chinese Basketball Association]," Zagklis said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua in Shaanxi Provincial Gymnasium.
"Basketball is a game that is very attractive to families, it is a game to the entire family, and I was very glad to see here that not only 'big audiences,' but audiences of all ages," Zagklis noted, adding that "especially on the first day of the year of dragon, I was really impressed."
Zagklis believes that the high attendance rate reflected the popularity of basketball and was one of the legacies of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which was held across eight Chinese cities.
Zagklis had been to Xi'an in 2018 for a world basketball summit. Revisiting the city, the FIBA Secretary General still found it charming. "It's a beautiful city, I still remember the fantastic opening ceremony at the Southgate (a top destination on Xi'an's remarkable city wall). I visited Terra-Cotta Warriors and Qin Mausoleum this time, I'm impressed," said Zagklis.
The 44-year-old also took note of the arena he sat in, which did not exist during his 2018 Xi'an trip. "It's a venue of the right size, and how it embraced Team China and the three other participating teams, it was really exemplary," Zagklis added.
FIBA WOMEN'S WORLD CUP EXTENDED TO 16 TEAMS IN 2026
Zagklis stated that women's basketball was one of the three strategic priorities of FIBA, "We made this a priority in 2019, and it will be a priority until 2027 at minimum."
With these efforts, FIBA has seen a sizeable increase in the number of women referees and coaches, with an example of the first men's World Cup officiated by women referees last year.
Zagklis revealed that FIBA would keep pushing the promotion of women's basketball by adding berths to the women's World Cup. The Berlin 2026 will feature 16 teams, compared to Australia 2022's 12. "We are also creating a new series of qualification tournaments so that every summer, at least 30 countries around the world have a women's FIBA competition at intercontinental level," he added.
With the vision to make basketball the most popular sports community, Zagklis stressed the importance of having more women athlete stars. "Not only [super stars] Han Xu, Li Yueru and Li Meng, but other international players. I think it is important to create these role models for the next generation of girls, that part of our basketball program is "Her World, Her Rules," Zagklis explained.
CHINESE PLAYERS, REFEREES NEED MORE INTERNATIONAL APPEARANCES
Regarding the current situation where Chinese referees are rarely seen in major competitions, Zagris believed that it will be a lengthy process, while FIBA is working closely with CBA to improve the quality of domestic referees.
"We have started over the last five to six years a new way of approaching officiating programs with our federations, and CBA is one of them, now they have around 17 international referees. This is a long process because it requires a large number of games in the local league and close collaboration [to make them] know how basketball is played and officiated internationally," said Zagklis, "I'm very happy with the work between FIBA and CBA, and I think we will see the fruit of this work very soon."
Failing to make the Olympic Games two consecutive times, China's men's basketball hit an all-time low ebb. Zagklis suggested the former Asian powerhouse increase international appearance to bounce back.
"The fact that we are playing more and more world-level competitions gives opportunities to CBA to frequently put the team together. There's always an equation between quantity and quality, and I think there is a need for more international exposure of the players to top-level games."
"When many years ago FIBA Secretary General Stankovic opened the door to professional players into the game, he was sure you have to play the best to improve."
Zagklis wrapped up the interview by extending his Chinese New Year greetings to Chinese basketball fans, wishing the country "a very successful basketball year." ■