MEPs put pressure on Commission to defend national team basketball
By Simon Ward
A group of Members of the European Parliament wants to ascertain whether the European Commission is prepared to intervene in a continuing dispute between FIBA, the international basketball federation, and Euroleague Basketball, the organiser of the top European clubs competition, over major fixture clashes.
It emerged today that the seven MEPs have submitted new questions to the Commission asking whether it will take measures to prevent competition law violations and launch an investigation to help to resolve the impasse, which relates to EuroLeague fixtures being scheduled up against national team games in Europe
The MEPs claim that the Commission had previously indicated that it shared their views on the importance of national teams and that it urged the warring parties to find a solution, but that none has been forthcoming.
FIBA and Euroleague Basketball have been at odds over various issues, most notably new windows for international games introduced in November and February that clash with EuroLeague fixtures and mean top players cannot take part in both.
Three alternative calendar plans put forward by Euroleague Basketball in March were dismissed by FIBA as they would have restricted national team games to June, September or split between both months.
This prompted the members of FIBA Europe, the regional arm of the international federation, to adopt a declaration in May emphasising the importance of national teams and championships in basketball.
Last December, both FIBA and Euroleague Basketball took encouragement, for different reasons, from the decision of the European Commission to side with speed skaters in a landmark case against the International Skating Union relating to participation in competitions not organised by the sport’s world governing body.
However, the Commission has yet to intervene in the dispute between the two basketball bodies.
In their legal notice published today, the MEPs wrote: “On the 9th November 2017 answering our previous question on the Euroleague basketball schedule the Commission shared our views on the importance of national teams and urged the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and Euroleague Commercial Assets (ECA) to find a solution for the good of the athletes and the entire sport.
“Eight months later a solution has not been found and the problem will be aggravated in the following months. The number of Euroleague players available for the national teams is lower than 30% and the better players are kept by the teams. For the next season ECA has once again fixed a calendar incompatible with national team competitions.”
The questions submitted were as follows:
“Would the Commission take the necessary measures to prevent competition law violations in order to ensure a proportionate solution to the benefit of all stakeholders?
"Would the Commission open an investigation in this matter, particularly in the light of the Commission’s December 2017 Decision?
"Since it appears that all past intermediation attempts between FIBA and ECA have failed, would the Commission agree that it is now urgent to open an investigation in this matter?”
The MEPs that put their name to the legal notice were Santiago Fisas Ayxelà of Spain, Bogdan Brunon Wenta of Poland, Tiziana Beghin of Italy, Marc Tarabella of Belgium, Theodoros Zagorakis of Greece, Virginie Rozière of France and Julie Girling of the UK.
In their declaration in May, the 46 European basketball federations condemned ECA for scheduling EuroLeague games at the same time as FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers, claiming this had the effect of “placing the players in an unfair situation and ethical dilemma.”
They also hit out at EuroLeague clubs that had not released players for their national teams, and discarded as “unacceptable” the calendar “proposal” presented in March.
In March, FIBA Europe took encouragement from statements made by European sports ministers at a meeting of the Council of the European Union, which it took to support its cause, and urged “the European governments and the competent bodies of the European Union to hold ECA accountable for its actions against national teams and the European model of sport, which have a negative impact on sport throughout Europe, and in particular other team sports.”
However, there is a sense that positions have become even more entrenched, with EuroLeague having scheduled several games between Spanish and Turkish clubs and between Italian and Lithuanian clubs around the same time that their respective national teams are due to meet in World Cup qualifiers on 29 November.
Speaking at the EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade in May, Jordi Bertomeu, the chairman and chief executive of Euroleague Basketball, said he expected further fixture clashes in 2018-19, but was willing to listen to any proposed solutions from FIBA.
He told reporters: "I don’t know what they have in mind. We are prepared to study any proposal that they can send to us... After presenting five different alternatives, and all of them being rejected, probably it’s time for them, if they believe there is something we can do together. We are totally available to help them and open to any type of conversation that allows everybody to present the best competition with the best players on the court to our fans.”