Mediterranean League: one step closer to reality

After many rumours and speculations last year, there is the first concrete official admission of a planned new “Mediterranean League”. More specifically the news come from Greece.

ESAKE (the Professional Basketball Clubs’ Association which organises Greek A1) had a meeting today with all club-members attending, where they mostly discussed the prospect of the new Mediterranean League. The overall conclusion was that Panathinaikos, Olympiacos and Aris have made up their mind will join the new league (whenever it is created), and most likely leaving Greek A1.

The Chairman of ESAKE Vassilis Economides had a meeting with the Greek Basketball Federation chairman, and former FIBA Europe president, Georgios Vassilakopoulos some days ago and the latter confirmed that he had held talks with his Israeli and Bulgarian counterparts who will be definitely joining in.

Of course Economides doesn’t like what is being planned, because in case Panathinaikos, Olympiacos and Aris leave Greek A1, he will be basically running a league with approximately 80% less interest, influence, income and attendance as those three teams are the locomotive of the league.

But the three teams have declared their interest and intent to move to another league in various occasions, each for their own reasons (Panathinaikos vice-president Thanassis Giannakopoulos himself, Olympiacos said it in a press release while Aris still consider themselves as an elite power of Greek basketball and they will follow the teams from Athens).

Economides went as far as claiming that this would mean the end of “professional basketball” in Greece, but the three big clubs were never known for their sensitivity towards basketball and other teams. His fears were further justified by a Vasilakopoulos quote during a press conference some days ago where he stated that “SA corporations (equivalent of Public Limited Company in Greece) are not the solution”.

Although Vasilakopoulos didn’t mention a time frame but a vague “in the future” for the new league, Economides requested an official statement regarding the plans of the Mediterranean League so he could prepare a better response.

There is clearly a conflict of interest between ESAKE and EOK (Greek Basketball Federation) as the former will lose its top three clubs while the latter will be running the show of the Mediterranean League, which is a personal project of Vasilakopoulos who wants to continue his authority in the basketball field.

After his painful defeat in FIBA elections to Yvan Mainini and the loss of FIBA Europe to the opposition, in May 2010, he returned to the helm of EOK and recruited old FIBA Europe board members and allies during his era at the presidency of FIBA Europe such as Turkey, Serbia, Russia and Israel to start an opposition against FIBA Europe, making some harsh comments against the new board, mainly due to expansion of Eurobasket.

And truth to be told, he was probably right. The shift of power in FIBA Europe to the West was clearly dictated by the smaller Europeans nations and some big ones where basketball is not so popular, or on a high level, to say the least. One can easily conclude that just by having a look at the new FIBA Europe board

So naturally the ostracised old members agreed to create this new league as it would give them some leverage and power in European basketball, while creating more interest for basketball domestically. Additionally to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Serbia three more countries will be joining the Mediterranean League.

Bulgaria, which has been an ally of the “Eastern Block” of FIBA Europe, Qatar which will be the financial dynamo of the new league and Cyprus which blindly follow whatever Greece decides and will finally get the chance to have a team in an elite competition.

More specifically there will be 12 teams taking part in the first season. Both Greece (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, Aris) and Turkey (Fenerbahce will definitely be one) will have three teams, Israel will get two spots (Maccabi Tel Aviv is locked and Hapoel Jerusalem will probably be the second team) and Serbia, Bulgaria and Cyprus will get one spot, for the domestic champion of the previous season.

Logistic problems like the possible Israeli and Arab teams facing each other have been discussed and a possible solution would be the Qatari team playing their home games against the Israeli ones in Cyprus. Of course there are many more problems to be solved.

Most teams will probably be skipping the regular seasons of their domestic league (like Partizan does in the Serbian League) and only compete in the play-offs, or abandon it, like the Greek teams will most likely do.

Manos Papadopoulos, Panathinaikos‘ Team Manager, did not deny the possibility of the new Mediterranean League stating that “it is normal for every owner to want the best for his team” while Olympiacos‘ General Director, Christos Stavropoulos said that his team “wants a competitive league and centralised TV rights while undermining Greek A1 claiming it has reached a record low due to rules not being followed. Aris‘ President, Giannis Damianides, said that Aris can not decide first and is waiting to see what the “big two” clubs do and follow them, adding that “Aris wants to play in the best possible league whereas Greek A1 is getting worse every year”.

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