Mindaugas Balciunas: FIBA destined for collapse

Former Secretary General of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation and member of the FIBA Europe Board, Mindaugas Balciunas, believes that FIBA entered its last stage of destruction following recent threats to ban national teams from international competitions if they fail to stop the clubs from their countries from competing in Eurocup run by Euroleague.

In an interview to Krepsinis.net Balciunas shared his thoughts on the on-going war between FIBA and Euroleague as well as what it might bring in future.

Below are some of the most interesting quotes from the aforementioned interview.

Mindaugas, what is your opinion about the war in European basketball?

It isn’t new situation, probably it just reached its culmination now. Four years ago – in 2012 – European basketball federations had themselves risen against FIBA order. Even back then everybody saw that management, organization is just vegetating. Out of 28 federations significant majority signed their intentions memorandum as well as offered the president at the time to resign. The changes were critically needed already then. However, due to various circumstances those intentions were suppressed, things were temporarily quiet, but now, as we can see, everything returns like a boomerang.

Four years ago we even went to the court of arbitration. Nobody mentioned that one of supporters of this progressive idea, Nar Zanolin (former Secretary General of FIBA Europe) was awarded a compensation of way over 1 million euros for being illegally fired. There are many other things that are kept quiet.

As you said, current situation didn’t surprise you, but why do you think this huge commotion started exactly now?

16 years have passed since FIBA lost the decisive battle when club basketball moved to private hands. While I was still on the Board, FIBA talked a lot about how to change the situation. The main thing is that the people who sit there are afraid to admit that you can’t bring back what was in the past and that it’s time to sit and negotiate. It would make sense if FIBA admitted its defeat in terms of club basketball and would go to Euroleague’s heads and would say ‘let’s make one product’. In such case both sides would win.

Euroleague can definitely survive without FIBA in commercial sense, while FIBA has nowhere to grow because it only has national teams competitions, though de facto they [national teams competitions] are also controlled by Euroleague. If a club says to a player ‘you can’t go to a tournament and must stay here because we pay salary to you, we invest in you’ the player will have no choice. Yes, he may see the national team as its primary duty but in any case everyone will care about their lives and personal careers.

Threats to national federations that are reminiscent of times of dictatorship are coming from FIBA’s side.

I’d say that a total desperation is on FIBA’s side: some kind of threats to clubs that are an important party of European basketball development, threats to federations that are FIBA members. In such case, FIBA is threatening itself. I think it’s the last stage of destruction and it will result in a collapse of FIBA organization. It had to happen long time ago because FIBA management structure, methods are outdated.

FIBA is a closed organization, controlled by the Secretary General, there’s no representation or freedom of choice there. If more than half of the Executive Committee members are appointed by Patrick Baumann (FIBA Secretary General), it means that the only goal is to keep influence. If you are afraid to enter into an open and free discussion with various opinions, the majority of which probably object yours, then a fear of losing influence arises.

One famous sports manager has once said that this organization is stuck between the World War I and the World War II – it is absolutely true. The life went on, commercial environment is different, so are the decisions. You achieve anything by threats – free market in a free world sets its own laws.

In this case, club basketball went far ahead and FIBA has lost this battle already. That’s way it attempts to have influence by means of repression and this is not possible. For a person who understands basketball these threats only cause laughter because no serious organization would do that.

Think about it. If they ban Italy, Spain, Lithuania national teams, then they’ll probably be left with Armenia, Gibraltar and somebody else (laughs).

Am I right to think that FIBA would not fulfill its threats because it would be completely non-beneficial to them?

They can send various letters but if they disqualify [national] federations, it means they (national federations) will create a new structure. In other words, they can create a new FIBA, only it would be called differently. This disqualification might sound very threatening but the biggest negative consequences would hit FIBA organization. There’s no logic behind these threats.

Probably, federations that do not support FIBA’s position or clubs should sit together and look for solutions and act [together] because it will be very difficult to change anything acting solely.

That’s correct. You see, the whole problem is in position of FIBA’s heads, specifically Baumann’s. That’s where the unsolvable dispute arises. In this situation all that was needed was for the two organizations to sit, adopt a decision favourable to everyone and to assign spheres for which each of them are responsible. Maybe one would be responsible for national teams, the other – for club basketball, and the situation would be solved.

How will this war influence the teams, in your opinion?

Looking logically, from business perspective, clubs should separate themselves from federations and have their own organization. In such case all FIBA’s threats would be absolutely meaningless. Although, they are such now too.

What results will this situation finally bring, in your opinion?

Clubs and federations see how the civilized world develops. For instance, there’s the USA example – the strongest league is in total domination of basketball system and only then there are national teams and other things. It’s only a matter of time before it happens in Europe: whether it will be done by Euroleague or the NBA who comes here.

The influences were distributed long time ago: political influence might still be in FIBA’s hands but in club basketball politics means nothing. While money and modern management is on the club organizations’ side – Euroleague and ULEB.

I think that the current situation is a positive thing because basketball as a social phenomenon is living through a time of intense transformation, which football lived through long time ago, USA basketball – too. Around 40 years ago. Now it has come to Europe.

I think that in time federations will have to take Euroleague’s side and to establish some kind of ‘Euroleague International’ or a similar organization.