CBA chairman Yao Ming says the men's team must play well to qualify for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) President Yao Ming has admitted the men's team is "lagging behind" the opposition as they prepare for an uphill battle to secure Tokyo 2020 qualification.

China's men's team have not missed an Olympics since 1980 when they withdrew from the competition, but are at risk of not qualifying for Tokyo 2020.

With a tough qualifying group ahead, China will look to make amends for an underwhelming performance at the 2019 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup.

Despite hosting that tournament, China were not the top Asian team, with Iran automatically qualifying for the Olympics instead.

Now China will play Canada and Greece - 21st and seventh in the world rankings respectively - in their qualifying group, with China the group's lowest-ranked side at 28.

The top two teams will qualify for the semi-finals of the event in Victoria in Canada, where the other group os set to comprise of Uruguay, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Only one of the six nations will secure a Tokyo 2020 berth and it is one of four men's qualifying tournaments scheduled to take place in June and July next year.

China's men's basketball have a tough path to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©FIBA
China's men's basketball have a tough path to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©FIBA

"The Olympic Qualifying Tournament is an event that we must play well because this is an opportunity to qualify the 2020 Olympics," Yao said in an interview with CCTV.

"To be realistic, we are lagging behind the top teams around the world, but we hope to show everyone our expectations for the future."

The women's team has qualified for the Games for a ninth time, making every Olympics since 1984 except Sydney 2000.

With their qualification tournament set to be held in China, it was instead moved to Serbian capital Belgrade at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, but China prevailed despite far-from-ideal preparations.

Yao added: "It was great luck in misfortune.

"First of all, because of the epidemic situation, we lost our home-court advantage. 

"I felt very sorry because the city of Foshan in Guangdong made a lot of preparations for all participating teams.

"I hoped that all teams, especially the Chinese women's basketball team, can achieve good results.

"However, due to unpredictable circumstances, in less than one month before the game, we were informed that we must go to Serbia for the competition. 

"In the end, the result was very pleasing because we obtained the Olympic qualification. 

"The success is accumulated from all the daily hard work."

China's women's team secured their spot at the Tokyo 2020 Games with a win in Belgrade ©FIBA
China's women's team secured their spot at the Tokyo 2020 Games with a win in Belgrade ©FIBA

An eight-time National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star, Yao became CBA chairman in 2017 and also discussed the CBA's selection policy.

"We have prepared a list of nearly 30 players for both men's and women's teams, and the final 12 people will be generated from this list," Yao said.

"This includes the best players in the men's and women's basketball leagues, including Yi Jianlian. 

"Of course, there will be some new rising stars, a lot can happen in a year. 

"Just like Zhou Peng, who was injured three days before the World Cup or Zhao Jiwei, who was injured a week before the Asian Games. 

"We are looking for more talented players to make us more resistant to risks."

China's men's team finished last at the previous two Olympics and made the quarter-finals at Beijing 2008, being knocked out by Lithuania in a heavy defeat.

The women's team reached the bronze-medal match in 2008 but lost and could not advance from their group at Rio 2016.