From football to athletics to basketball and to boxing, sport has long held an important role amongst young Africans. For many, sport has been a ticket to mobility, affording them opportunities to travel and represent teams – both national and otherwise – across the world. While figures aren’t available to indicate how widespread a phenomenon sports as a means of mobility are, many of us know at least one African sports player or coach right here in the Middle Kingdom. This month a total of 5 African teams (Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia) are in China hoping to hit the jackpot at hit the World Cup.
Starting today, the 31st of August, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA)’s World Cup kicks off in Guangzhou, before travelling to seven other major China cities. Black Livity China spoke to Will Voight, the Coach of Angola Basketball who tells us of Basketball’s rapidly growing popularity amongst African audiences. With five of the Cup’s 32 teams hailing from the motherland, it’s perhaps no wonder why.
2019 is a historic year for China as it marks the first time FIBA is hosted here. And in true Chinese style, this tournament is set to outdo its predecessors. Players and spectators will gather in five Chinese cities spanning the vast country, namely: Beijing, Foshan, Wuhan, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Nanjing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. China’s foreign policy strategy includes a significant investment in people-to-people exchanges, and China is eager to invite foreigners here to experience the country first hand. China is also not one ready to be outdone.
Thanks to an overdue restructuring of the qualifying criteria, this year there are a record number of African countries, as well as participating countries in general. This championship there are 32 participating countries from 16. Of the teams playing, 5 of them are African – Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. For context, in 2014, only three African teams played, namely, Angola, Senegal, and Egypt.
Changes will continue past FIBA 2019’s final match in Beijing on the 15th of September. For the first time, the FIBA Basketball World Cup will qualify 7 teams directly for the following year’s Olympic Games. As such, the top-ranked team from Africa, Asia and Oceania respectively, and the top 2 ranked teams each from the Americas and Europe in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 will all qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games. Under the new system, African countries will benefit from improved basketball exposure, with more than 150 countries competing in over 1,250 regular and competitive games.
Angola and Serbia will tip-off FIBA 2019’s first match on the 31st of August. The stars aligned and an African country is playing in FIBA’s opening match. Angola is a force to be reckoned with – it has won more World Cup games than any other African team. With all the fanfare surrounding the tournament, Black Livity China dives into the action and chats with Coach Will Voigt of Angola Basketball.
Coach, tell us a bit about your team and its history
Basketball has a long history in Angola, with the country’s national team joining FIBA in 1979. It’s one of the first countries to play the game on the African continent; in fact, it’s the only African country where Basketball is the number one sport. Basketball is really appreciated in Angola and is now a big part of Angolan culture. The team is followed closely by their Angolan fans. When Angola hosted qualifying matches between 12,000 – 13,000 fans came out over the weekend to cheer us on. We have also won more games at the World Cup than any other African team.
What makes the team different from the others?
In general African teams play a bit faster, the players are more athletic than other teams in the world. Angola Basketball has embraced that style too.
What impact (if any) does playing FIBA in China, versus another location have?
FIBA 2019 is the largest event of its kind. Last time 16 teams were competing, and now that number is up to 32! We have never seen a tournament of this scale. China is organizing a competition with more teams and its taking place in 8 locations.
What does the future of FIBA and Basketball look like?
We are playing in the most competitive World Cup to date, and Basketball is set to continue down that trend. There is an emphasis on growing the game on the continent; for example, NBA Africa is starting a league next year! The Basketball Africa League is a new endeavour which plans to set up 12 teams which will begin playing in January 2020, and Angola will be one of them. Rumour has it former President Barack Obama will play a role in the league. Basketball is a fast-paced game, and there is continuous action with goals happening in quick intervals. Fans are watching Basketball more and more because they love its entertaining traits.