Canada’s women’s 3X3 team ‘devastated’ to be left out of Olympic qualifiers

Canada's Michelle Plouffe, right, kisses her gold medal while standing on the podium with her twin sister, Katherine Plouffe, during the women's basketball medal ceremony at the Pan Am Games (Julio Cortez/AP)

Michelle Plouffe took a pass from her twin sister, Katherine, dribbled around a screen set by Katherine and launched a two-pointer. Splash!

About 14 seconds later, Michelle ran to the left corner and received another bullet pass from Katherine, drilling yet another double and putting Canada up 8-4 over the U.S. in the final match of the FIBA 3X3 Women’s Series Tour stop in Edmonton, giving Michelle’s squad the momentum to hang on for a 19-17 victory to close the circuit.

“It’s just a really fun sport, and I think it’s great for spectators because it’s so fast-paced and exciting,” Michelle told Sportsnet over the phone from France where she plays professionally, explaining FIBA’s take on 3-on-3 basketball, which will be making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

“It’s only a 10-minute game or the first team to 21 and there’s not a lot of stoppages.”

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The Olympic qualification tournament was in Plouffe’s and the rest of the Canadian women’s 3X3 team’s sights – until that hope was ripped away.

Last Friday, Plouffe tweeted out that due to a truly bizarre rule from FIBA, her team would be left out of the OQT despite its strong performance.

According to FIBA, only one national team per gender may get into the OQT, and with Canada’s men’s FIBA 3X3 team ranked higher than the women, they got the nod over Plouffe’s team.

“We were pretty devastated because we threw ourselves into this thinking that we could get there,” said Plouffe, a day after she received the bombshell news.

“And I know lots of athletes would know this feeling where you would just give something your all and lay it all on the line, and it just doesn’t happen for reasons outside of your control. It really sucks.”

There are some exceptions to this single-gender rule — such as India getting both their teams into the OQT as the host nation, and the U.S., France and the Netherlands with both because of the high rank of their men’s and women’s teams — but Canada didn’t receive these exceptions and as a result the women’s team has had to bite the bullet.

Given the year we’re in, this rule of FIBA’s seems incredibly tone-deaf, especially when you take into consideration another wrinkle to this entire affair: the competition system appeared to be stacked against the FIBA 3X3 women’s series to begin with because, unlike the men’s side where you can have multiple teams competing in tournaments from a nation earning points for its respective federation, the women’s series had a rule put in place that made it so only one team per country could play and earn points for the federation.

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For example, Canada’s FIBA 3X3 men’s team could have something like a Team Winnipeg, Team Edmonton and Team Saskatoon all playing at the same time, and all earning points for the country on the men’s side, but Plouffe’s team was the only one that could do so for the women.

“This was the first summer that they had a world series for the women, so I know this wasn’t their ideal setup for the women’s series, but it still made it a lot harder to move up in the rankings for women, I think,” said Plouffe.

But even if the competition system in place wasn’t as poorly thought out as it appears to be, that still doesn’t change the overall absurdity of the one-gender rule for an OQT. Plouffe says the rationale behind it was to help grow the game, but ultimately, she doesn’t seem all that convinced this is the best method.

“From (FIBA’s) point of view, it’s to diversify the sport and diversify the tournament,” said Plouffe, laughing incredulously.

“So, if you look at it purely from that point of view, yes, you’re getting a lot of different countries. If you look at it from a competition, Olympic point of view, it doesn’t make sense to me because I believe that the Olympics are for the best teams in the world and these rules exclude some of those teams. So, for that reason it doesn’t make sense, but if their goal is to diversify then, yeah, I guess it’s doing its job.”

That Plouffe would seem a little bitter over a rule that appears to disfavour overall competition strength is understandable, as she’s a former Olympian herself, playing for Canada’s national women’s team in both the 2012 and 2016 Games.

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She, along with her sister, retired from the 5-on-5 national team in May, but instead of sitting on their laurels in retirement, they decided to jump straight back into international competition with this FIBA 3X3 opportunity.

“Myself, my sister, Katherine and Paige Crozon were the first three on board and we formed a team to compete in the FIBA 3X3 Women’s Series,” said Plouffe.

“We weren’t able to win prize money and that sort of thing, but it was to win points to qualify us for the Olympic qualification tournament. So we self-funded ourselves through the summer and played in about, I think it was seven tournaments internationally. We won four of them and we were on the podium, I guess you could say, in all of them except for one.

“So we were doing really well, and in August, while we were at one of these tournaments, we found out about this rule. We didn’t know for sure what that would mean for us because to us the rule seemed a bit wordy, so we didn’t know exactly what it meant, but we found out it had the potential to keep us from competing in the qualification tournament. Perhaps we were a little (naive) — like I was. As an athlete and a competitor you would think that, ‘OK, if we win all of these tournaments and prove that we are one of the best teams in the world, there’s no way they can’t let us into the qualification tournament.’ So I guess, maybe, that was naive thinking.”

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Naive thinking and painfully false as it all turned out, despite all of this Plouffe still hasn’t completely given up.

“I don’t know if it would be possible to kind of get a wild-card bid there to get into the qualification tournament,” said Plouffe.

“We don’t know what will happen in March (when the OQT will take place). I’m still holding onto a shred of hope, and it might be dwindling, but we’ll be figuring it out here in the next little bit with where to go as a team here.”

For the time being, clinging to this flickering candle of hope is all Plouffe can do.

“To have FIBA 3X3, like this new sport that was a new opportunity and new project to dive into right away, I was completely enamoured by the sport, I loved it pretty quickly. So it gave me a new passion to pursue.”

And passions don’t die quite so easily.

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