Sydney – The players at this year’s World Cup had some concerns about the competition, including the compact schedule and timing of the tournament, and the women took their grievances straight to the top.
FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis speaking to many players over the course of the recent tournament. He offered a quick fix for the remaining concerns, but changing the date will require more work.
The next World Cup in 2026 will again feature 16 teams instead of this year’s 12 – and players will have more time to recover between finals.
“We won’t play three days in a row, that won’t happen again,” said Zagklis. “We don’t want to repeat that. It’s too difficult for the players.”
At this year’s tournament, the quarterfinals, semifinals and medal games were played over three consecutive days. In total, teams that reached the gold medal game would have played eight games in 10 days. The 2018 World Championships had a break between the quarterfinals and the medal round.
While the schedule change is a welcome positive move for players, there’s still the issue of timing. The WNBA attempted to cooperate with FIBA by shortening their season. Still, the league playoffs lasted until the start of the World Cup, forcing about a dozen players to travel basically a few thousand miles, hop off a plane and play for their national teams.
Many European leagues cancel shortly after the World Cup ends, making it difficult to move them to a later start date.
Zagklis said FIBA will work with stakeholders to provide the best possible solution for players – although he notes the change will likely have to come from the WNBA or the other pro leagues.
“The World Cup turns 70 next year, the women’s world has been there long before virtually any women’s league in the world and it’s the top women’s competition,” says Zagklis. “So the calendar starts again with the World Cup.”
U.S. Basketball Chairman Martin Dempsey said FIBA urgently needs to address the scheduling issue, especially given that the WNBA is set to expand over the next few years.
“The time for this conversation is before it happens, not after,” Dempsey said. I don’t want to take the risk of creating a very watered down World Cup.
“We need to have a really serious conversation about how to keep things in sync so they don’t collide.”
Five of the US players competed in the WNBA Finals, which ended three days before the start of the World Championship. Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and tournament MVP A’ja Wilson missed the American’s first two games.
Before the date change was announced, the players made their positions clear.
“I don’t know if FIBA gave a damn about anyone,” Plum said.
“Rest would be a good thing,” Wilson said. “Having a bit of time in between would definitely help.”
The venue for the 2026 World Cup has not yet been announced and getting to Australia may have been the hardest place for everyone due to its location.
Serbia coach Marina Maljković noticed how tired many of the players were. She is training in Turkey in the winter and said players in all leagues need a break.
“You see a lot of players who lacked freshness. You can see it, every single team that goes from club season to WNBA, from WNBA to national team,” Maljković said. “It’s very, very complicated this year. … Talking to the players this season, because of the really suffered everywhere because of the tight schedule. I think there will be smart people who will sit down at the table and see what we can do about it.”
Logistical issues aside, the World Cup in Australia was a smashing success. The total attendance of 145,519 was the highest in the history of the competition. There were almost 16,000 fans at the US-China gold medal match, the largest since the 1953 championship game, played in Chile in a stadium with 35,000 fans.
“In every respect, we saw a tremendous effort from the hosts,” said Zagklis. “Record sales of merchandise, record attendance, fantastic atmosphere at the games, so it’s hard to doubt the conclusion that we had the best World Cup ever.”
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