YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — About 20 Yokota residents who hoped to see Team USA play in the round of 16 in the world basketball championships Sunday afternoon (Aug. 27) are calling a foul on the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

Banking on the United States emerging victorious in pool play, they bought advance tickets at 10,000 yen (about $85.26) a pop for Game No. 67 in the brackets, which initially matched the Group D champions against Group C’s fourth-place team at 5 p.m. Sunday in Saitama Super Arena. The U.S. team beat Senegal 103-58 Thursday night to finish 5-0 in the preliminary round.

But the Yokota group claims FIBA officials afterward moved that Sunday contest at Saitama to 1 p.m. — so instead of the U.S. vs. Australia, they’d be watching France vs. Angola at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, they demanded a refund or permission to use the tickets for the earlier game.

Chris Kwitek, a Yokota East Elementary School fifth-grade teacher, said two or three members of the group secured ticket exchanges by going to Saitama in person and he was headed there Saturday night to try his luck.

Kwitek said when Team USA appeared likely last week to clinch the top spot in Group D, the group bought about $2,000 of tickets at an off-base convenience store’s automated ticket outlet and he printed a schedule on Tuesday listing a 5 p.m. tipoff time for that game.

Asked whether the Saitama tickets listed game times as “to be determined,” Kwitek said: “That’s what they’re claiming. But we saw the brackets showing D1 playing C4 at 5 p.m. We’re bringing copies of the original schedules that were on the Web site and printed in Stars and Stripes.”

The tournament’s brackets were drawn up Jan. 15, with dates only but no specific times decided for the final-round games, according to Kenichi Yagi, organizing committee office ticket manager. He said the official schedule for the Sunday round of 16 with game times was announced Thursday.

“We want to verify where they got the information,” Yagi said Saturday. “But … there was no time posted for the D1 and C4 game on the tournament’s English Web site run by FIBA and the Japanese Web site run by the organizing committee.”

Organizers will neither refund nor exchange tickets, he added.

Kwitek claims Yokota fans depended on information FIBA had published for months.

“We were checking the FIBA Web site and all of a sudden it changed,” he said. “We feel real cheated here. We wanted to wear our jerseys, bring flags and support the U.S. Then FIBA pulled the switch. … They moved that game.”

Kwitek said he was curious about how many others from U.S. bases also might show up Sunday expecting to see Team USA.

“You don’t know how many other people bought tickets” expecting to see Team USA. “But I wonder how many other people are going to show up at 5, then wonder, ‘What’s this game?’

“I’m not sure what the others are planning but some people will probably just accept it.”

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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