GENEVA – FIBA will hold its first Central Board meeting of 2012 next weekend (28-29 April) in Rio de Janeiro and there will plenty up for discussion on the agenda.

For FIBA President Yvan Mainini, this will be his fourth time chairing the biannual meeting, which brings together the 23 members representing all stakeholders in international basketball.

Since being elected at the World Congress in Turkey in 2010, Mr Mainini has led the way in finding – and putting in application – answers to questions asked by his predecessor, Bob Elphinston and FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann: namely, what vision should FIBA have for itself and what direction must it take?

Mr Mainini took time to answers questions in an in-depth two-part interview.

In this first part, he sheds light on FIBA’s current main projects, including the 3×3, the calendar of events and explains the idea of a new system of competition.

FIBA: What are the main projects FIBA is working on right now?

Mainini: We have several projects on the table that are quite substantial and important for the future of our sport. Two are particularly ground-breaking: we have launched 3×3 as a new discipline and we are studying the feasibility of a radical change in our calendar of competitions. I could even add a third project, which is literally ground-breaking and that is the construction of our new and final headquarters in Switzerland.

FIBA: Why are these projects so important?

Mainini: FIBA has been working on a strategic plan for quite some time now. At the beginning it all started with the discussion about the commercial value of our events and our ability to look for new resources to help develop basketball worldwide. Over the past 10 years we have focused on assisting the Zones (FIBA’s continental organisations) and we have been successful in generating the necessary resources for them. However, there is now a much clearer divide between well-developed and lesser-developed Zones and, at the same time, the National Federations have not necessarily benefitted directly from this growth. So we decided to review our commercial operations, but rapidly came to the conclusion that we needed to go much deeper in the exercise and analyse FIBA’s overall vision and strategy.

FIBA: Which of these main projects have priority at this moment in time?

Mainini: Right now, 3×3 and changing our calendar of competitions are the two projects that are of huge importance to us. With 3×3, we presented the conclusions of a one-year study on how to develop the discipline going forward at the World Congress in Istanbul in 2010. As for the calendar, it is something which I emphasized as a key priority during my term at my first intervention as President of FIBA at the Congress two years ago.

FIBA: Why these two in particular?

Mainini: These projects stem from two key strategic objectives that the Central Board has fully supported for several years now, and which it formalised in early 2011 in Lyon when it approved a fully revamped strategy for FIBA.

The first objective is related to strengthening the National Federations. A strong and regular national team programme is an essential tool in developing and strengthening National Federations. The second objective is related to the need to enlarge the worldwide pool of basketball players and lovers in order to prepare for a better future with new talents, new countries, more fans and more youngsters. The 3×3 is a good fit and opportunity for basketball.

While we are focused on 3×3 and our calendar and system of competition, we are of course working on a number of other important projects at the same time, including as I mentioned before the construction of our new headquarters on the outskirts of Geneva, but also working on our future governance and improving our relationship with the NBA.

FIBA: We already know quite a lot about the 3×3 project. However, less is known about the new calendar and system of competition. What are the reasons to have a new system?

Mainini: The competition between various sports is growing on a global scale. It’s not only about basketball. Everyone – whether it be football, handball, rugby or other – has more or less found the means to give national teams more exposure and visibility.

A few dozen national teams, out of our 213 members, have accounted for medals in FIBA’s international competitions and tomorrow we would like for a lot more countries to be competitive and be known and perceived as having a strong basketball programme.

FIBA is a Federation of National Federations and as I mentioned earlier, we have been concentrating – due to the amount of available resources – on strengthening our regional organisations over the past decade. They now have a healthy operational base to continue to work on. As a global organisation, however, we are only as strong as our weakest National Federations. While we have plenty of programmes that assist in transfer of know-how, coaching and referees clinics, our sport remains strong in traditional markets but has difficulty growing fast in others. Furthermore, the national teams programme in particular has not been extensively developed worldwide and the FIBA Basketball World Cup does not have the right positioning within our own competition structure. It is impossible to adjust these aspects unless we fully revisit the world calendar.

So we needed to re-think our whole system of competition. We have to provide national teams with official games in their countries, look at things globally, provide some coherence to the FIBA calendar – by creating clear pathways (Road to) to the FIBA Basketball World Cup and to the Continental Championships – and enhance the primacy of the World Cup overall. In essence, we need to get the base for our future long-term stability and sustainable growth.

FIBA: What is the main change under this new competition system?

Mainini: The main change is the potential number of official games played around the world that will make up the qualifying process for FIBA’s four-year cycle – from one FIBA Basketball World Cup to the next.

Under the new system of competition, there can be up to 1,600 games played by up to 130 national federations over a period of 18 to 24 months. This is double the number of national teams that are currently involved in the qualifying process for FIBA’s leading international tournaments. Most of these games will be played in a ‘home-and-away’ format but it could also be done within tournaments of proximity in places such as Africa. The same could apply to Zone Championships, thus creating a lean four-year plan.

These games should be played on a regular basis, throughout the year, giving national teams media exposure year-round.

This is the best way to give national federations the opportunity to grow and develop. This system should strengthen them in terms of revenues, organisation and promotion.

FIBA: Can you explain the format that will be brought into play under the new competition system?

Mainini: This new system of competition consists of a four-year period in which there will be a FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Olympic Games, one continental championship per FIBA Zone and one separate summer dedicated exclusively to Women’s Basketball.

This calendar takes into consideration the players: in any sport, they are the key value, the capital. If you give them too many games, it can lead to them getting injured and suffering exhaustion. We value quality over quantity and therefore players will have one summer of rest in every cycle.

Because the qualification process will be continuous throughout the year, we expect national teams to use a larger pool of players, which means more players will get to represent their countries and we should, in the long-term, produce more talents.

It probably will be that players have to travel more, but at the same time they will require less preparation time as they will not be coming together with their national team just once a year as is the case right now. There will be more continuity with players and their national teams.

As I mentioned, the new competition system is based on home and away qualification games, so most countries will get to enjoy the right to play in front of their fans a lot more.

The second important change as part of this new competition system is that the FIBA Basketball World Cup will consist of 32 teams, thereby allowing for good representation for every continent. For example, you could have 12-14 European teams that qualify for FIBA’s flagship event.

Finally we will always play the FIBA Basketball World Cup a year after the football World Cup, starting in 2019 (instead of 2018). Today the rivalry between the two events is very detrimental to us in terms of exposure and partnerships. I don’t think we can go in that direction anymore.

FIBA: How does this change concern the women?

Mainini: I’ve always been of the opinion that we could very well do a different calendar for women than for men. This calendar is in fact an opportunity for women’s basketball as it allows bringing the World Championship for Women out of the shadow of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. So for us to have the women’s tournament stay put in 2018 is an interesting offer because it allows us to concentrate fully on this event and for it to have its own following.

Be sure to check out the second part of this in-depth interview on Monday 23 April as Mr Mainini explains the timing for the implementation of the new system of competition.