Serbian clubs have nationality problem

The three best Serbian clubs; Red Star Belgrade, Partizan Belgrade and Radnicki Kragujevac are facing a very acute and unique problem.

They are preparing for the Serbian Cup (Radivoje Korac Cup) that will be held in Kragujevac between the 7th and 10th of February. The last day to submit the rosters is on the 4th of February.

The problem is that all three Serbian clubs may have to play incomplete. Not only at this cup, but also later on in the domestic Championship.

It has to do with the definition of “import players” and “national/domestic players”.

Serbian passportRed Star, Partizan and Kragujevac were all under the impression that they had only four import players each, but according to the definition of the Serbian Basketball Federation Radnicki has eight, while Red Star and Partizan each have five.

According to the definition of the Serbian Basketball federation a player only counts as a national/domestic player if he is eligible to play for the Serbian national team. This is also in accordance with the FIBA rules.

The problem with Kragujevac, Red Star and Partizan is that some of their Serbian players are NOT eligible to play for the Serbian national team, and therefore qualify as “import players”!

How is this possible? It is possible because many inhabitants of the former Yugoslav republics are eligible to choose between several citizenships, and dual citizenships are very common. For example, a Slovenian passport is very popular because that country is an EU member.

In sports, many Serbian athletes who are not good enough for the Serbian national team opt to play for another former Yugoslav republic. Playing for a national team gives extra exposure and

Boris Savovic (Red Star). Played for Montenegro U20
Boris Savovic (Red Star). Played for Montenegro U20

increases a player’s market value. It is a smart career move.

Especially the tiny Montenegro profits from this. That country only has 600.000 inhabitants and some Serbs sarcastically refer to the Montenegrin national team as “Serbia B-selection”.

In the team of Radnicki Kragujevac, Aleksandar Capin has a Serbian passport but also a Slovenian one and he played for the Slovenian national team. His team mates Ratko Varda (Bosnian national team), Milos Borisov (Montenegrin national team) and Steven Markovic (Australian national team) have the same situation. None of these four players is eligible to play for the Serbian national team, which therefore qualifies them as import players.

Together with the “real imports” Terrico White, Mark Worthington, Kyle Visser and Matthew Bryan-Amaning that brings the total number at EIGHT. For the Adriatic league that is not a problem, but for the Serbian cup and Championship a maximum of only four import players is allowed.

This means that four of these eight players will not be able to participate in either the cup or the Serbian Championship! This would be a disaster for Radnicki that is also hosting the event. If a solution is not found quickly then Radnicki will take the case to court. In the meantime, they have gotten the FIBA involved.

The FIBA rules say:

Any player with two legal nationalities or more, by birth or by naturalization, may choose at any age the national team for which he wishes to play…… Any player having played in a main official competition of FIBA for a national team for which he is eligible is considered as having chosen the national team of that country…….

That part is clear, but the Chapter on the registration of players and FIBA licenses says:

Member federations must register all foreign players in their country. Additionally, they must annually:

a. Obtain a Foreign Player “A” License from the FIBA Zone for those players
participating in the 1st and 2nd divisions of the national championship.

b. Obtain a FIBA Player “B” License from FIBA for those players participating in official cups and tournaments of FIBA.

c. Register with the Secretariat of the competent Zone a list indicating full name,
nationality by birth, current nationality and club’s name for each foreign player having reached the age of eighteen (18) and participating in the 3rd and 4th divisions.

Radnicki claims that the Serbian Federation only asked a Foreign Player “A” License for Terrico White, Mark Worthington, Kyle Visser and Matthew Bryan-Amaning and NOT for Aleksandar Capin, Ratko Varda, Steven Markovic and Milos Borisov. Therefore, the Serbian Basketball Federation can’t decide now to declare them “imports in retrospect”. That would also cause problems with the FIBA and some heavy penalties can then be expected.

Former player Dejan Tomasevic, who is currently the commissioner for the Serbian Basketball Federation, understands the emotions of Radnicki. But he also says that the rules have always been clear and can’t be changed in the middle of the season. For a change like that, the general assembly of the Serbian Basketball Federation would have to come together.

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