This is Part 16 of a series on Toyota Motor Corp.'s extensive involvement in sports.
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In September, Japan's national men's basketball team was knocked out of the Asian qualifiers for the 2012 London Olympics.
The failure represented a major lost opportunity for a sport keen to boost its popularity in Japan and put greater pressure on administrators trying to arrange a merger of the country's two top leagues.
The current two-league system--with the Japan Basketball League (JBL), featuring corporate teams, and the bj-league, consisting of professional teams, competing with each other for top billing--has been blamed for retarding the sport's development.
Talks are under way to combine the two leagues into a single professional league sometime after 2013, but the principles of Toyota Motor Corp., a key backer in the corporate league, are a major issue in the negotiations.
An all-professional team would go against the basic policy of Toyota, which insists that all its athletes be full-time, full-benefit employees who juggle work and training.
The problem is part of a wider dilemma for Toyota as it struggles to maintain its standards at a time when most corporate sports teams are offering professional contracts to their employees.
Eiji Seino, a Toyota Alvark official, says: "We would have to reconsider some things if (the new league) requires teams to be professional."
Toyota also has a major impact on decision-making at Toyota group firms, including Aisin Seiki Co., which is home to the richly funded Aisin Sea Horses.
An official at the JBL says Toyota "holds the key" to the reforms. That may involve the automaker taking a second look at some of its most dearly held principles.
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