Euroleague Basketball claims EU's ISU ruling supports it in battle with FIBA
Basketball - 11 Dec 2017
Euroleague Basketball, organiser of the sport’s top European clubs league, has welcomed last week’s decision by the European Commission to side with speed skaters in a landmark case against the International Skating Union, claiming that the ruling offers it implicit support in its long-running dispute with FIBA, basketball’s world governing body.
The European Commission decided that ISU rules imposing severe penalties on athletes participating in speed skating competitions that are not authorised by the ISU are “in breach of EU antitrust law,” adding that: “The ISU must now change these rules.”
Euroleague Basketball said in a statement that it “welcomes and supports the European Commission’s ruling, as it defends the freedom of athletes to participate in the speed skating competition of their choice, even if such a competition is not organised by the international federation (ISU).”
European basketball players have been forced to decide between turning out for 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.
In its statement, Euroleague Basketball claimed that it has “always defended such freedom of choice for basketball players, coaches, officials, referee coaches, clubs and domestic leagues against the sanctions and repeated threats of sanctions that the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has imposed to these collectives.”
It further claimed that, “As a direct consequence of the ISU ruling, FIBA will no longer be able to:
• “Sanction or threaten to sanction clubs for participating in Euroleague Commercial Assets’ (ECA) competitions (EuroLeague & EuroCup) as opposed to FIBA competitions (FIBA Basketball Champions League & FIBA Europe Cup).
• “Sanction or threaten to sanction domestic leagues for their clubs choosing to participate in ECA’s competitions as opposed to FIBA’s competitions.
• “Sanction or threaten to sanction officials or referee coaches for officiating in ECA’s competitions.
• “Sanction or threaten to sanction national federations including their national teams for clubs from their territory choosing to participate in ECA’s competitions.”
Euroleague Basketball had already explicitly drawn parallels with the ISU case in a complaint to the European Commission, in which its said that “FIBA was conducting similar practices to ISU,” and requested “the modification or elimination of a number of articles that prevented the freedom of choice of clubs, players, coaches, officials and referee coaches to participate in competitions that are not recognised by FIBA, which currently allow FIBA to issue severe sanctions.”
However, it concluded its statement by saying that it “remains committed to finding an agreement with FIBA that allows for a long-term, stable collaboration that permits all basketball stakeholders to collectively work together for the growth of the sport globally.”
FIBA had itself already claimed that the European Commission’s ruling supports its own position in the dispute with Euroleague Basketball, saying: “The European Commission's decision... comes at a crucial moment for the players’ rights in basketball, where Euroleague Commercial Assets (ECA) has attempted to boycott the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers by scheduling purposefully a conflicting calendar.
“FIBA condemns any (direct or indirect) actions, whether by ECA or its shareholders, effectively restricting the players' freedom to represent their country on the basketball court. It is time the ECA and its clubs comply with EU rules and remove their restrictions on players.”
In its ruling, the commission said that the ISU’s eligibility rules “restrict the commercial freedom of athletes who are prevented from participating in independent skating events,” and as a result, “athletes are not allowed to offer their services to organisers of competing skating events and may be deprived of additional sources of income during their relatively short speed skating careers.”
In a strongly-worded statement, the ISU said the commission’s decision “harms not only the ISU but also skaters and the entire skating community. In essence, the ISU’s eligibility rules – similar to the eligibility rules of many other international sports federations – say that skaters may only participate in international skating events that have been authorised by the ISU.”
It continued: “These rules are essential to the role of the ISU as the guardian of skating and the international federation for the sport as recognised by the International Olympic Committee. The commission claims that the eligibility rules preclude independent organisers from conducting skating events. This is not true. Fact is that the ISU does authorise independent events, provided the organisers adhere to the ISU’s relevant standards.”
FIBA and Euroleague Basketball have been embroiled in a long-running row over new national team windows, with the latter rejecting an October 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.