FIBA and Euroleague defend their positions on divisive international windows
By Simon Ward in Istanbul
The dispute between FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, and Euroleague Basketball, the organiser of the top European clubs competition, over new international windows has reignited, with both sides claiming to be acting in the best interests of the sport.
A new global calendar comes into effect this year, which includes spaces in the schedule for national team games, notably qualifiers for major championships, in November, February, June and September.
This is being introduced by FIBA, with the support of national federations, to raise the profile of the national teams, which, until now, have been playing most of their games in the northern hemisphere summer.
However, the organisation behind the EuroLeague, which was restructured this season to incorporate a round-robin regular season in which every team plays 30 games, is refusing to take breaks to avoid a clash of fixtures, claiming its own schedule does not allow for this.
At the end of last week, FIBA issued an explanation of its new competition system and calendar, entitled ‘Basketball’s Coming Home’, including supportive quotes from players and coaches and representatives of federations, leagues, players' associations, broadcasters, agencies and sponsors.
FIBA said: “The new system offers a clear structure and hierarchy of the competitions at a global level, is more player-friendly and easier for fans to understand. The regular games of national teams year-round will also bring increased media coverage and promotion, creating synergies with club competitions and enhancing the commercial potential of basketball.”
It also pointed out that basketball was the only Olympic team sport in which national teams currently play only in the summer, while soccer has at least four fixed windows during the European club competition season.
However, there remains an impasse with the EuroLeague over the November and February windows, which has prompted Giovanni Petrucci, the president of FIP, the Italian basketball federation, to threaten sanctions against players that do not respond to call-ups for the national team.
Jordi Bertomeu, the president and chief executive of EuroLeague Basketball, is unrepentant, saying that “nothing has changed” regarding its position since the decision on the windows was made a year and a half ago.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the EuroLeague Final Four in Istanbul, he stated: “The point here is we talk about sanctions, but nobody talks about how to convince people to do things better.”
Among the supporters of the new windows are Andrei Kirilenko, the president of the Russian Basketball Federation and a former international star, who is quoted saying: “The only time we see the national team is one month a year, about August time and of course for the fans it's a disaster. With the new competition system, every three months you're going to see your national team, you're going to see your players in front of the fans and different cities have the chance to see the national team. So it's a very good idea. The national team is like the crown jewel, it’s the cherry on the pie.”
Meanwhile, Matteo Manni, the director of rights, programming and production at Italian broadcaster Sky Italia, said: “The new international calendar will bring great benefit to the coverage since it will provide longer-term frequency and consistency in the programming with all-year regular visibility of the national team, thus enhancing the potential of basketball on TV.”
FIBA cites the fact that international matches were played during the club season until 2003 and argues that the calendar has only become congested because the number of games in the EuroLeague “has almost doubled” to a maximum of 37 per team, which for some “is more games than in their own domestic league.”
It quotes Alberto Reyes, the president of the ABP, the Spanish professional basketball players association and a former international, saying: “Back in the day we played the FIBA windows and there was no problem. The European league was more rational than the current one and there were fewer games. The problem now exists because of the greater number of games in the EuroLeague. Bertomeu presumes to have the power to decide who goes or doesn’t go and play for the national team. Who is he to do that?”
Bertomeu denies he is opposed to national team basketball nor seeking to block the release of players to represent their countries, but argues that the EuroLeague be treated similarly to North America’s National Basketball Association, which is not having to respect the November and February windows.
He is also willing to co-operate by ensuring that games in the second-tier EuroCup do not clash with the windows.
Bertomeu said: “In July when we discuss the final calendar for next season my feeling is with the EuroCup we will be able to be flexible because the EuroCup is less demanding from a calendar point of view. There are less games. But there are difficulties with doing the same with the EuroLeague.”
FIBA said it had exempted the NBA from having to release players for the non-summer windows because “as the number one basketball league in the world, [it] cannot be treated as if it were any other league.”
The federation added: “The absence of NBA players during two of the windows will offer opportunities for other talented players to shine for their national teams and as a result develop a whole new generation of basketball stars.”
Bertomeu claimed “everybody knew” that the NBA would be granted an exemption, but believes the EuroLeague is being unfairly belittled by comparison.
He said: “Do you believe that we can consider our players second-division players? We are trying to protect our players. Our players are first-division players, not second-level players. The same respect that NBA players deserve, our players deserve.”
Bertomeu argued that the system being introduced by FIBA would, in fact, be detrimental to national team basketball, saying: "We have to make sure the top players have to be there, otherwise it makes no sense. It’s a lack of respect for the national teams as well.”
Meanwhile, Chemnitz in Germany has been named as the host of the FIBA U20 European Championship in 2018.
The decision was announced at the FIBA Europe general assembly in Berlin on Saturday.
The board also approved a proposal to award all European Youth Championships up to two years in advance in the future to help organisers with their planning.
FIBA Europe president Turgay Demirel said 2016 had been “another successful year for European basketball,” with Spain and Serbia both winning medals, behind USA, in the Olympic men’s and women’s tournaments in Rio de Janeiro.
He also looked forward to events in 2017, including the FIBA EuroBasket Women in the Czech Republic in June and the FIBA EuroBasket in Finland, Israel, Romania and Turkey in August and September.