FIBA in talks with Mediaset as lack of Spain stars threatens World Cup coverage
By Simon Ward
FIBA, the international basketball federation, is in talks with Mediaset España to find a solution after the Spanish commercial broadcaster vowed not to televise the national team’s forthcoming qualifying games for the Basketball World Cup, or indeed the main event itself, because the country will be lacking many of its top players as a result of a protracted calendar dispute.
Spain are due to begin their campaign to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China with games in Montenegro on Friday and at home to European champions Slovenia on Sunday.
Rights to the qualifiers were acquired by Mediaset in May in a four-year deal that also included the World Cup and the EuroBasket, the European championships, in 2017 and 2021.
However, the broadcaster, whose channels include free-to-air outlets Telecinco and Cuatro, announced at the end of last week that it would not be proceeding with coverage, citing the absence of Spanish stars set to play for their clubs in European competition rather than for the national team in the qualifiers.
It said this risks Spain not reaching the World Cup and "devalues the competitive nature of these qualifying matches and the interest of fans and viewers."
However, there could yet be a u-turn or alternative outcome, with FIBA telling Sportcal today: "Discussions are currently ongoing with Mediaset in order to find a positive solution for all parties involved. FIBA will make sure to give fans in Spain the opportunity to watch their national team in action in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers."
Players have been forced to decide between turning out for the national teams or their club sides after international games were scheduled in the same week as EuroLeague fixtures following the introduction by FIBA of new windows in November and February, with many opting to stay with their clubs.
The issue is particularly prominent in Spain as it is one of Europe’s leading basketball countries and has five teams in the EuroLeague this season, and Mediaset has blamed FIBA, Euroleague Basketball and the Spanish secretary of state for sport, currently José Ramón Lete, for the current situation.
In its statement on Friday, Mediaset said: “The fact that the Spanish national team cannot count on such players as a consequence of the commitments they have with their respective clubs puts its qualification for the final phase of the FIBA 2019 Basketball World Cup at risk and devalues the competitive nature of these qualifying matches and the interest of fans and viewers.
“In such circumstances, Mediaset España has decided not to retransmit this competition, the rights to which were acquired mainly due to the attractiveness of a national team endorsed by the great sporting success it has achieved in recent years.”
FIBA and Euroleague Basketball have been embroiled in a long-running row over the new national team windows, with the latter last month rejecting a proposal to switch EuroLeague games scheduled for Thursdays and Fridays to the Tuesdays before in the weeks in question.
FIBA saw this proposal as a compromise after Euroleague Basketball maintained that it would not introduce gaps in its schedule to respect the windows, with the international federation itself moving European qualifiers from Thursdays to Fridays.
Mediaset said it “does not understand how this inadmissible and unprecedented situation has been reached, for which FIBA is the most responsible, [as it was] aware of the commitments of the clubs which include the players and their regular competitions;
“Euroleague, for overlapping its calendar [with other competitions] when FIBA had already announced the date of its [competition] windows and for its inflexibility with regard to the commitments of the different national competitions, among them the Spanish competition;
“And the Secretary of State for Sport, for his lukewarm application of the Sports Law 10/1990 of October 15, which in article 47 decrees, without short-term solutions, that it is the obligation of athletes to attend call-ups by national sports teams for participation in international competitions or for preparation for them.”
Mediaset’s deal, which was brokered by FIBA Media, the joint venture set up in 2016 by FIBA and Perform, the international sports content and media group, built on the broadcaster’s coverage of the 2014 Basketball World Cup held in Spain and the 2015 EuroBasket won by the country's national team.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the Directorate General for Competition at the European Commission is set to issue a ruling on the calendar dispute following approaches from FIBA and Euroleague Basketball.
Last week, Jorge Garbajosa, the president of the FEB, the Spanish basketball federation, described the issue as “a national emergency,” for the sport, adding: “We cannot allow a Spanish national team to be out of national team competitions until 2021.
“If we are eliminated [from the World Cup qualifiers] with our best players, then it is a responsibility of the president of the national federation and the head coach. But we need the assets to be able to compete at the highest level.”
Meanwhile, a group of 31 members of the European Parliament have signed a letter sent to European Union president Jean-Claude Juncker and the commissioners for competition and for culture, youth and sport, calling for intervention to ensure EuroLeague teams release players to represent their national teams in World Cup qualifiers.
They pinned the blame on Euroleague Commercial Assets, the company behind the competition, which they accused of violating articles of EU treaties by acting as a monopoly.
The MEPs wrote: “ECA’s refusal to adjust the fixture schedule is in violation of written and oral guarantees provided to the European Commission and FIBA by the ECA itself.
“At this moment, we are extremely concerned about the situation involving players who are bound by employment contracts with clubs that control the ECA. Such decisions affect over a hundred of the best European players who are of key importance for their national teams.”
Euroleague Basketball, for its part, has maintained that it is not looking to undermine international and domestic basketball, stressing that there are no sanctions for players who go to play for their national teams in international weeks.
In rejecting the proposal from FIBA to reschedule fixtures in the new national team windows, Euroleague Basketball claimed the measure “does not solve the most central problem,” in that the international fixtures will still be missing top stars, namely those from the NBA, and “increases the travel and game frequency load” on Europe-based players.
However, ahead of the start of the qualifying competition for the World Cup, FIBA has announced the introduction of a new worldwide insurance scheme, which aims to provide protection for national team players and their clubs.
The insurance, which was arranged through Arch Insurance Company (Europe) Limited, covers male and female players in senior and under-17, under-18, under-19 and under-20 national teams for temporary total disablement and surgical expenses.
It ensures that the FIBA can compensate clubs for players injured while with their national teams, with benefits based on their salaries and the number of days lost. In addition, clubs will be compensated by FIBA for surgical medical expenses incurred while on national team duty.
The scheme covers four times as many players as the previous arrangement, including wheelchair players, and games in all regions.
FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann said: "This is great news for players who are the most important people in basketball. This new scheme has been introduced in recognition of the amazing contribution they make to national team competitions which are the locomotive of basketball.
"It is a priority for FIBA to protect the players who give everything for the national teams and this scheme ensures they don't have to worry about the financial implications of an injury which keeps them out of the game. It also respects the interests of the clubs who release players for national team competitions."