Okinawa, Japan Excitedly Prepares to Host FIBA World Cup

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Junior high school students receive instruction from Shiori Yasuma, left, at a basketball workshop in Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture, on July 9.

With less than a month to go before the FIBA Basketball World Cup takes place in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines, first-time host Okinawa Prefecture is busy with preparations such as organizing related workshops and pre-camp activities.

Star players — including from the NBA — representing 32 countries will compete in the competition from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10. Okinawa Arena will host a total of 20 games, including games in the first and second rounds of Group E, which includes Japan. The event will be a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Japan is ranked 36th in the world, while Group E comprises Germany, Australia and Finland, all higher ranked than Japan.

Basketball is a popular sport in Okinawa. According to the Japan Basketball Association, the prefecture has the highest concentration of basketball players in the country, with 997 per 100,000 people in fiscal 2022. There were also more players of elementary school age or younger in Okinawa than in Tokyo in fiscal 2022, even though Tokyo’s population is about 10 times that of Okinawa.

The sport spread in Okinawa during the postwar U.S. occupation. Last season, local team Ryukyu Golden Kings won its first championship in the top division of the pro basketball B.League. Japan’s national team includes such players as Yuta Watanabe of the NBA Phoenix Suns, Yuki Togashi of the Chiba Jets and Hugh Watanabe of the Ryukyu Golden Kings.

“This [World Cup] is excellent timing for Okinawa,” said Nobutoshi Higoshi, the chairman of the Okinawa prefectural basketball association. “We want Okinawa to become synonymous with basketball.”

Okinawa City will host the Australian and Georgian teams, and the town of Yonabaru will host the Cape Verde team. Preparations are underway at training camps as the host municipalities make final checks on training grounds and players’ accommodations.

To build momentum, the prefectural government and others organized a basketball workshop on July 9 at Chatan Junior High School. Okinawa native Shiori Yasuma, who played at last year’s Women’s World Cup, taught at the workshop.

“I’ll definitely go see World Cup matches,” said Koki Yonekura, 12, who participated in the session. “I’ll work hard enough to become a member of the national team in the future.”