GENEVA - Last Friday, in the first of a two-part in-depth interview, FIBA President Yvan Mainini outlined the International Basketball Federation’s main projects for the foreseeable future: 3x3, the construction of new headquarters on the outskirts of Geneva and improving the system of competition for the period 2017-2030.
In the second part of the interview, Mr Mainini now goes deeper into the subject of the system of competition.
FIBA: Why wait until 2017 to implement this new qualification system?
Mainini: The reason is simple - today we are working toward the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain, we also have engagements on continental championships for 2015 as well as for the qualification to the Olympics in Rio in 2016. Also, we’re not yet finished in our conversations with our stakeholders, with the FIBA Family as well as national and international leagues and all need time to adjust.
FIBA: Domestic and international leagues are an important piece of the puzzle as playing regular national team games throughout the year would mean breaks in their seasons…
Mainini: Yes they are (important) but beyond the leagues it’s really about the clubs and we need to have the utmost respect for them. Regardless of what is happening on a larger scale, the clubs are the ones that spot the players, prepare them and make it so that they are ready for the national teams.
You have to look at basketball in the context of its history. Since World War II, it has been a sport that leans heavily on club competitions, which occupy the majority of the calendar. The current system of blocks in the calendar leaves a good chunk of the year to clubs. But the national team programme is clearly complementary to the club system and a successful national team underlines the good work done by a domestic league and its clubs, but is also an accelerator for growth as well as for commercial and media interest, which benefits clubs and players alike.
I think it’s now time for us all to come together, join forces between clubs, national federations and FIBA, to reinstate the appropriate balance between club and national team competitions. We believe our proposal is one that works for all stakeholders of the game.
FIBA: This new system of competition reduces the number of continental championships. FIBA Europe has issued concerns with having a EuroBasket every four years rather than every two years.
Mainini: FIBA Europe have said they would like to maintain two continental championships (in a four-year cycle). I am a European myself. I know they have a good system and the latest EuroBasket in Lithuania with 24 teams was a resounding success. So I can feel and understand their reaction. But we can’t stop there.
Firstly, we need to understand what are the growth rates of the current system and we have seen some alarming signs in the recent past, and that is without mentioning the current economic crisis which we all face and will last for quite some time. Secondly we can’t consider global basketball by looking at just one continent. I believe people will see the global and overall interest to be had with this new competition system. Everyone has something to gain in this situation. This new system is about diversifying our growth opportunities, strengthening our national federations, not about FIBA and its zones.
There are options to keep two continental championships, but they will face other challenges with the rhythm. At the same time, in the year that would see the summer dedicated to Women, FIBA’s Zones and National Federations are free to hold continental tournaments for the men as they see fit. We have no objections to them doing so. But eventually, as is the case in football, it is the FIBA Central Board that needs to decide on the World Calendar. From there all options are open for all stakeholders to fill the open spots, including for Europe.
FIBA: You’re still in a period of holding talks. What is the position being taken by the stakeholders?
Mainini: We discuss with our member national federations and they all agree that in order to accelerate the growth and interest in basketball worldwide on a long-term basis, the status quo is not an option. We’re also talking with the NBA and the Euroleague and hold open discussions with them. Globally, the discussion has already been very positive as it allows for a good debate about our sport and future opportunities. The idea of the new system of competition has been well received and is understood because it is completely coherent with our long-term strategy. Finally, we are discussing this with our corporate and broadcast partners. They all concur that we need to review our system, innovate and move forward if we want to be ready for future challenges.
FIBA: What are the major obstacles that you see to the implementation of this new competition system?
Mainini: It is not simple to rally people around a vision. All want tangible results now in order to compare status quo with a (perceived) uncertain future. For example, we have done studies externally to analyse the financial impact of the change and it is suggested that the current resources of the FIBA family won’t decrease despite having one less Zone Championships. National Federations will be the direct beneficiaries of it from several vantage points, including a financial one. The new system will allow for better redistribution of funds from FIBA to all of its member National Federations. We also expect to be able to distribute a share of our revenues to the participating teams at the World Cup. This demonstrates that, over time, a system such as the one we are suggesting will be more effective than the current one. So I strongly believe the national federations have to adhere to this and look to develop something in their own territories.
The basis of the whole system, having regular official home and away games for each national team, is key to our success and future sustainability. Anywhere in the world, when a national team is playing to qualify for a world cup, it creates much more interest than for any friendly game. Of course, these are just studies, reasoned analysis and much will depend on the ability of National Federations to adjust and capitalize on the opportunities. But we have five years to prepare them, which makes me optimistic. At the same time, we, together with the National Federations, will have to convince clubs and leagues that one or more breaks for national teams is not detrimental to their business plans, but actually enhances their profile and helps them too. Also, we need to be careful not to abuse of our players. They make the show and we need them fit and rested for clubs and the major events.
We have to be honest and say that all the games in the qualifying process are not going to be like the Final of the FIBA Basketball World Cup or of the Olympic Games. These games won’t necessarily sell out arenas and stadiums, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t of interest and that you can’t get good crowds for them. So in this type of situation, I have to point at the home and away format. Some people will argue you can’t get the crowds out to these types of games and I have to disagree with them. If there is interest, if there is something important at stake – like a place in the FIBA Basketball World Cup – there will always be fans that will come. National teams hold a special place in the consciousness of people.
FIBA: What are the next steps?
Mainini: We will continue our talks with all the stakeholders. We have our Central Board meeting in Rio this week (28-29 April) during which we will show how things have progressed and get our members’ opinions which in large part represent our Zones. Hopefully we can finalise the project this year and have it approved at our Central Board meeting in November.