The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, which tipped off in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, has torched the inevitable coming of basketball to the Gulf region.
The 2023 edition of the FIBA World Cup which tipped off on to the courts of the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan, showcasing that the game of basketball has no borders – having come a long way from its roots in the United States.
Invented in 1891 by James Naismith, basketball bounced into Asia during the American colonial period, with it first being introduced to the Philippines in 1910.
On a mission to spread Americanisation, the game of basketball was one of the methods used to apply Western values by American teachers, who incorporated it into the Philippine educational curriculum.
The sport would be quickly adopted in the country, with the Philippines hosting the inaugural Far Eastern Championship Games in 1913.
Initiated by American Elwood Brown, president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Association and Manila Carnival Games, the Asian multi-sport event would ultimately be considered a precursor to the Asian Games and would see the host Philippines triumph in the basketball tournament.
One hundred and ten years later, basketball returns to Southeast Asia in a completely different light.
This year’s 2023 FIBA World Cup broke records as the capital of the Philippines, Manila, set a FIBA single-game attendance record of 38,115 fans for the home side’s opener against the Dominican Republic.
Transcending the previous record of 32,616 spectators in the 1994 World Cup final in Canada, basketball has become close to a religion in the Philippines.
Ingrained in Filipino culture for more than a century, the efforts of those in the basketball world who worked hard to develop the game’s recognition overseas have finally paid off.
The proof was not only exhibited in the hosting of the games in the trifecta of the Asian world or the results of it either, as dark horse Germany won their first-ever FIBA Basketball World Cup title by defeating Serbia, who reached the finals to play in their first final since 2014.
The proof was actually courted in where the games were headed to next – with the ball being passed down to Qatar.
As with the FIFA World Cup, the FIBA games would be the first time another flagship sport will be held in the Middle East.
However, unlike football’s World Cup, Qatar is not a centre for basketball; it is far from it, and that’s precisely why it’s being hosted in the pearl of the Gulf.
“It’s not a question of business, but of international development. Our mission at FIBA is to ensure that basketball becomes increasingly popular throughout the world. But we can’t do that without taking our sport where people want to see it,” FIBA General Secretary Andreas Zagklis said in response to Qatar’s 2027 hosting of the games.
Like FIFA, FIBA believes that Qatar’s small-scale size will invite not only the world to catch the games but its own people as well.
“The 2027 World Cup in Qatar will be a very compact edition, in venues that have already been built, in a country that knows perfectly well how to organise major sporting events,” Zagklis added.
Intended to build global attention with the sport, the new-found interest in basketball has brought a smile to the country’s own players.
Speaking on Qatar’s hosting of the FIBA World Cup 2027, Tyler Harris, a professional basketball player in the country’s club of Al Gharafa, voiced that “basketball is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a sport in this region.”
“When hearing about the news of the 2027 FIBA World Cup, I felt excited. I always felt that Qatar’s environment is great for athletes and what they have to offer,” Harris told Doha News.
“As a player here, who truly loves the game, this truly excites me because basketball is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a sport in this region. The fans play a significant part of the game, and to finally get that excitement around Qatar will be special,” the 6-foot-10 power forward added.
Tyler, brother of Tobias Harris, an NBA player for the Philadelphia 76ers, is a believer in Qatar’s hopes to deliver a successful hosting of the games.
“Qatar has the resources to bring in basketball fans from around the world. Qatar has the potential to increase its audience by engaging the local community more within the sport of basketball,” Harris told Doha News.
“I believe Qatar wants a piece of that excitement! I mean who wouldn’t? This has the potential to inspire a significant number of athletes to pursue a professional career in basketball,” Harris added.
A lucrative return
Qatar has long believed sports to be the country’s opportunity to raise its global profile through hosting internationally-esteemed tournaments.
The 2027 basketball hosting is a crucial part of those plans for the sports capital of West Asia.
“There is a slowly emerging Gulf focus on basketball, with Qatar set to host the FIBA World Cup and Abu Dhabi about to stage another round of NBA games. Also, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has just acquired a stake in the Washington Wizards’ parent company, whilst rumours abound that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is appraising the acquisition of an NBA franchise,” Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy at Skema Business School told Doha News.
For Chadwick, the investment in basketball is a lucrative return for the Qataris, as basketball ranks second to the global game of football.
With the sports sector being a significant area of focus for Qatar’s investment, the game of basketball can do more than bring fans to their feet.
“The sport is commercially well developed as well as being home to some of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. Basketball diplomacy and the projection of soft power via the sport are commonplace. As such, Gulf interest in basketball appears to align with the wider sports strategies being pursued by the likes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi,” Chadwick told Doha News.
In June of this year, Qatar’s Investment Authority (QIA) became a minority investor in Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), a parent company of the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
One of the US’s most prominent integrated sports and entertainment companies, MSE is QIA’s first significant sports investment in the United States.
QIA’s Chief Investment Officer for Americas, Mohammed Al-Sowaidi, told Doha News exclusively: “QIA’s investment in MSE is well aligned with our diversified investment approach focused on long-term, high-growth opportunities as well as our longstanding prioritisation of the US as an investment destination.”
“We see great investment potential in professional sports as a media and entertainment offering, and the strength of the MSE’s brands across the world has made for an exciting opportunity as QIA become the first sovereign wealth fund to invest in a major US professional sports team,” Al-Sowaidi added.
An essential mark for the Gulf nation’s sovereign wealth fund, QIA aims to make good from their investment to further increase the country’s profile.
“This was a collaborative investment that will enable MSE to bolster and strengthen their offering across a range of verticals,” Al-Sowaidi said.