Greek and Spanish basketball heads want measures to defend national teams
By Simon Ward
The Greek Basketball Federation today called for state intervention to safeguard the future of national teams and domestic leagues amid a long-running calendar dispute with Euroleague Basketball, the organiser of the top European clubs competition.
FIBA, the international basketball federation, is at odds with the backers of the elite EuroLeague over new windows for national team games which go up against European club fixtures, starting next week.
The clash has left many players having to choose whether to represent their national team or their club side, and Giorgos Vasilakopoulos, the head of the Greek federation, claimed that legislative action is required now to prevent the “eventual disappearance of the national teams and domestic championships.”
His concerns are shared by Jorge Garbajosa, the president of the FEB, the Spanish basketball federation, who said yesterday that his country faced a “national emergency” as a result of the windows dispute.
Last month, Euroleague Basketball declined to pass on to Euroleague Commercial Assets shareholders a proposal from FIBA to move Euroleague games scheduled for Thursdays and Fridays to the Tuesdays before in the new national team windows in November and February.
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 for the 2019 Basketball World Cup from Thursdays to Fridays.
Euroleague Basketball's stance on rescheduling prompted a terse reaction from the nine federations in countries with EuroLeague teams, which accused the competition organisers of a “commercially-driven attack” on national teams.
The EuroLeague was revamped ahead of the 2016-17 campaign, with the number of clubs contracting from 24 to 16, including 11 granted automatic places, and the introduction of a round-robin system for the regular season in which each team plays 30 games, as part of a 10-year joint venture with international sports agency IMG.
However, FIBA and Euroleague Basketball had been at odds over the global calendar ever since the international federation announced plans to raise the profile of national team basketball by introducing windows in the midst of the European club season, as is the case in other sports, including soccer.
It was reported last week that the Directorate General for Competition at the European Commission is set to issue a ruling on the calendar dispute following approaches from the two parties.
However, Vasilakopoulos has called for more drastic action, issuing a statement on Wednesday which read: “Euroleague, ECA and their partners are slowly, but steadily and methodically pursuing the degradation, dissolution and eventual disappearance of the national teams and domestic Championships. They also seek to break the global (except USA) structure: Sports Amateur Club; National Federation; International Federation; IOC.
“The goal is already known. The creation of a closed EuroLeague, with the participation of the financial and sports elite. The plan has been ready for a long time and they are seeking the time and manner of its execution. Certainly, the economic downturn of the national entities that they are trying to enforce will pave the way for full commercialisation.
“The time has finally come to see the state intervene drastically and to halt this degenerate pattern that is unfolding rapidly.”
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 based in the NBA, which are not expected to return to Europe for the qualifiers, and “increases the travel and game frequency load” on Europe-based players.
Euroleague Basketball has denied it is looking to undermine international and domestic basketball, and stressed there will be no sanctions for players who do go to play for their national teams in international weeks.
This appears to be of little comfort to the FEB, which, given there are five Spanish teams in the EuroLeague this season, is unclear over the availability of the 24 players it has shortlisted to play in Spain’s World Cup qualifying games in Montenegro on 24 November and at home to European champions Slovenia on 26 November.
Speaking at the Europa Press Sports Breakfast in Madrid on Tuesday, Garbajosa said: “The issue with the basketball windows has become one for the country as a whole. It is a national emergency. 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.”
The FEB president added that he is “still looking for solutions and initiatives to avoid this being a catastrophic blow for Spanish sports. We will try everything until the last minute. There will be people that will work as much as we will, but I cannot imagine those people working more. This a national problem, we cannot allow that a leading national team in the world is not at the FIBA Basketball World Cup or the Olympic Games.”
Javier Tebas, the president of Spanish soccer’s top-tier LaLiga, also proffered his view on the European basketball situation, stating: “I've been paying a lot of attention to what is happening because it is a consequence of the neglect at the time of EuroLeague's creation. If what is currently happening is permitted, they will run over the national team and run over the ACB [the Spanish league body], which is already in a complicated situation. If it is not stopped, they will run over Spanish basketball, for sure.
"If FIBA is not successful in this, Spanish basketball is in the position of disappearing as an industry. We need to protect national industries and have Spanish players comply with law."
• Connor Sports has extended its deal to supply wooden flooring at FIBA’s top competitions until 2020.
The US company will provide the latest generation of its QuickLock portable arena surface at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China and at the basketball tournaments at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
Connor Sports and FIBA have previously collaborated at the World Cup in Spain in 2014, EuroBasket in four countries in 2015 and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.Sportcal