FIBA EuroBasket 2017, Europe's flagship basketball event, is now underway in four countries with the Final Phase to be staged in Istanbul until 17th September.
EuroBasket, like the FIBA Basketball World Cup and the Olympic Games, grips the imagination of casual as well as hardcore fans, who are united in support of their national team. And, while I can’t predict who will win EuroBasket, I can be certain that it will provide thousands of discussions and memories which will be treasured for years to come.
I’m equally certain that EuroBasket will be the spark which ignites the fascination for basketball among many youngsters and that some of them will go on to become the next generation of players proudly representing their country.
This is why national team competition is fundamental to our sport. National teams drive the evolution and growth of basketball and, as the world governing body with the responsibility for developing and promoting the sport worldwide, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) is committed to generating new talent as well as supporting and strengthening national team competitions.
In basketball, unlike other team sports, most fans have gone many years without seeing their national team play at home in meaningful games. That’s frustrating for the fans and for the players who constantly remind us of their pride in putting on the national colours and performing on their home courts.
Critically, the lack of regular competitive home games also meant that national federations didn’t have the ability to improve their organisation, cooperate with local authorities and media, generate resources - through ticket sales, sponsorship deals and other commercial revenue - and connect with fans. All of these contribute to each country’s ability to invest in development programmes and facilities that are crucial to the growth of basketball and benefit cities, clubs and new young players.
Those days are now over!
We have introduced a new calendar which not only ensures that national teams get to play regular home games but looks after our most important assets - the players - by reducing their workload by an average of 26 per cent over a four-year competition cycle. We are committed to a schedule designed to help them
In three months’ time, when the qualifiers begin on the road to China 2019 - the home of the next FIBA Basketball World Cup - qualifying games will be held during dedicated ‘windows’ throughout the year: in November, February, June and September.
Concerns have been expressed about the absence of National Basketball Association (NBA) players during the November and February windows but these need to be put into context and approached in a constructive spirit. The rosters of the national teams at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 show that just 11 per cent of players are playing in the NBA. That means that nearly 90 per cent of the current squads would be available for those two windows, and that all NBA players will be free for selection for the June and September qualifiers.
In this respect, basketball would be on the same path as other sports where top players don’t play every single game of a competition. In the Davis Cup, tennis’ big stars sometimes show only for the key games while domestic soccer cups are routinely used to blood young players with first-teamers held back until the final stages of a competition.
In much the same way, the absence of NBA players also creates opportunities for others to be given experience and a chance to shine on the international stage. This will ultimately be a big plus for the overall strength in depth of the teams and the development of new talents.
Regrettably, a handful of European club officials that are part of Euroleague have publicly indicated they will not release players to the national teams in November and February as they need to compete in an extenuating and ever-growing (of their own choice) club season at European level.
They draw analogies with the NBA - a closed league - which are evidently misplaced from any perspective. The NBA is a private national league that was created in 1946, outside FIBA‘s environment. It has its own rules, a calendar of more than 80 games since the 1960s, and operates in the unique, business-driven US sports market, where players are developed through school/college sport.
For its part, Euroleague is an international European league involving clubs benefitting from their national leagues and being strongly linked to the governing body in each country, where existing state legislation and federation rules need to be respected. While we support Euroleague’s ambitions and share the same desire to have one strong top-tier club competition in Europe, ultimately the position of these few clubs would be to the detriment of their own countries, whose chances of qualifying will be diminished. National teams will be weakened and individual players, who are proud to wear their country’s colours, will have that rare opportunity taken away from them.
It is not as though the restructuring of the FIBA calendar came as a surprise to anybody. The process began in March 2011 with an in-depth consultation process involving leagues, Federations and other stakeholders. The exact dates of the national team windows were confirmed and published in August 2015, giving everybody involved plenty of time to adjust.
The decision to adopt a new calendar was taken unanimously by the FIBA World Congress in the best interests of basketball worldwide to develop more countries and players, an objective shared by all experts and the NBA.
At FIBA, we see basketball through a wider lens and consider the long-term health of the sport around the world. This new calendar is a crucial step in the growth of basketball as we aim to become the most popular sport in every corner of the world. Any action taken in the commercial interests of a few and which weakens a large numbers of European domestic leagues and national teams is regrettable and does not have the sport at its heart.
It is time to accelerate the development of basketball by bringing national teams home. We must work together to make the new calendar a success and FIBA’s door is always open to those who want to enter into positive dialogue based on the best principles of sport and the long-term interests of global basketball.
Patrick Baumann is the secretary general of Fiba and president of the Global Association of International Sport Federations (GAISF), formerly SportAccord