Caught in the middle are Basketball federations and the largest clubs in Europe, but the standoff between the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and Union of European Leagues of Basketball (ULEB) is seismic.
The ULEB organizes the Euroleague, the most prestigious, profitable, and exciting Basketball competition outside the NBA. The body also controls the Eurocup, which is at the heart of the conflict. FIBA wants a piece of the action and has proposed its own Basketball Champions League, a competition that is mooted to start for the 2016/2017 season and be a sort of hybrid of the Euroleague and Eurocup.
Of course, the ULEB sees this as FIBA muscling in on its turf and trying to steal the spotlight from the Euroleague and Eurocup. The fallout has been dramatic and could have wide reaching consequences that will send ripples of change throughout European Basketball.
Essentially, both sides of the fence have presented federations and clubs with a simple ultimatum, “you are either with us or against us”. It is beyond obvious that the Euroleague/Eurocup and the Champions League cannot co-exist, but as it stands the giant clubs of the continent have chosen to stay loyal to the ULEB.
FIBA has reacted in a drastic fashion and is probably committing the equivalent of sporting blackmail by banning federations from international tournaments and threatening to hand down huge penalties to clubs that do not commit to the governing body. It is a tactic that carries no shortage of risk and could well destroy FIBA’s credibility in Europe and could eventually leave the body virtually powerless in the continent.
The Slovenian Basketball Federation has already been informed that it is now banned from participating in this summer’s 2017 European Championships. It was an apparent example setting punishment that targeted the Federation of Slovenia for refusing to punish its clubs.
The story does not end there though, as it is emerging that 14 other national federations have also been threatened with dismissal from the competition. Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Russia, Spain, Bosnia Herzegovina, Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Israel, Poland and Turkey have until April 20th to “explain themselves” or risk being barred from Eurobasket this year.
FIBA clearly thinks this kind of pressure will push federations into action and will make them punish the clubs that are not committing to the Champions League. However, it is a risky business for sure, especially as removing those nations would harm FIBA’s own international tournament. The governing body is at risk of shooting itself in the foot.
Full letter regarding the suspension of Slovenian Basketball Federation by FIBA: pic.twitter.com/l6qfdMtBnc
— Yugobasket (@yugobasket) 15 April 2016
This is not the first time that FIBA and the ULEB have clashed over where the power lies in European club competitions. During the last political scuffle, clubs sided with the ULEB and dealt an embarrassing and public blow to FIBA, leaving the sport’s governing body scrambling to put a positive PR spin on the situation by claiming the organizations were co-operating.
There would be no excuses this time if Europe’s clubs decide to stick with the ULEB, and the aggression FIBA is showing seems to suggest the organization understands that.
As always, much of the power lies with the giant clubs in the Euroleague, the ones who draw the crowds and ultimately generate the income that has made the tournament an unqualified success. The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, and Fenerbahce will decide the winner of European Basketball’s war.
At the moment those juggernauts are staying faithful to the Euroleague and the ULEB, the only question left is whether FIBA’s aggressive punishments can force them to change their minds?