The separate status of England Basketball, Basketball Scotland and Basketball Wales could be consigned to history after the secretary-general of FIBA hinted that a single UK governing body must be established for basketball as part of a deal to grant Great Britain a place at the Olympic Games.
Patrick Baumann has tabled a vote in March on whether the hosts should be granted automatic entry ahead of next summer’s qualification process. With his world championships now over, the thorny issue has become one of his chief pre-occupations. And, in a wide-ranging interview, the Swiss-based powerbroker confirms that he is openly using the possibility of exclusion from London 2012 as leverage to shake British basketball out of its long moribund state.
Following through on that threat would be a controversial, and risky, move. With both Britain’s men’s and women’s teams qualifying for next summer’s European Championship finals, it could reverse the progress that has been made on the court.
That is not enough, Baumann states.
And he wants a radical overhaul of the way the sport is organised in order to translate its oft-cited grassroots popularity into sustainable success at club and international level.
In a letter, seen by MVP, from Baumann to British Basketball Federation chairman Bill McInnes, Baumann confirms that the informal structure that sees GB sides fielded at senior and under-20 level “cannot be continued after the Games in 2012.” Although he is open to “a specific solution for the participation of the youth teams of the home nations in Europe,” his idyll is that the three home nations in Britain give up their individual memberships of FIBA and unify for the greater good.
“There needs to be one boss, one organisation that leads,” he insists. “I don’t think that means the three federations as such need to disappear. They have their role but it must be under one umbrella, with clearly defined responsibilities on developing basketball. We need to have one partner that has the clear vision so that when it comes to the table with FIBA or the British Olympic Association, they have the credibility to say what is good for basketball in England, Scotland and Wales.”
Coming from a close ally of International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, it would set a controversial precedent which might threaten the entry of English, Welsh and Scottish teams in other sports. Baumann is fully aware of the sensitivities involved. “It’s a difficult point,” he notes. “But a very practical one.”
Ultimately, his sole concern is that there is a long-term post-Olympic legacy with a coherent strategy that encompasses all levels of the sport.
“All the stakeholders in basketball have to have a clear idea of what they want to do on the Monday after the Games are over,” he adds. “How do they want to participate in the life of international basketball, how is their league going to strengthen?”
The British Basketball Federation will meet in Edinburgh later this month to discuss a response with officials understood to be prepared to examine all options to satisfy FIBA’s wish list. With its six-person board consisting of two representatives of each of the home associations, there is expected to be a fraught debate.
“Our success on the court this year has proved that British basketball teams deserve to be at the top table of international competition, however to stay there the challenge of ensuring a stable and effective structure off the court is also essential,” said BBF chairman Bill McInnes.
“The legacy from competing well in 2012 was always the bigger prize of a raised profile for all basketball activity in Britain and all that that would deliver for the sport.
“The British Basketball Federation and its three member Associations of England, Scotland, and Wales are confident that the consultation on the future of British basketball, which is presently taking place, will deliver a strategy which will convince the FIBA Central Board of the sport’s commitment to becoming a serious player, both on and off the court.”
Yet asking the three bodies, with over six decades of history, to suddenly disappear is unlikely to happen without furious debate. But they are being urged to contemplate the unthinkable to attain a prize that has proved unattainable since 1948 – the last (and only) time a British basketball team competed at an Olympics.
“I’m relatively confident they can achieve it,” Baumann affirms. “But it does require some creative thinking and you have to touch on some taboo issues and really shake the tree. If you don’t, then probably it will be more difficult.”
Team GB is not the sole issue on the governing body’s plate.
Baumann and new FIBA President Yvan Mainini have also joined in the criticism of FIBA Europe following their decision to increase next summer’s Eurobasket finals to 24 teams, a change announced after the end of the qualification campaign. “I am a bit confused by that,” admitted Mainini. “It’s completely unbelievable to change the rule when the championship is ongoing. It’s incredible.”
But that is what was decided by his European membership. “It does have some positive aspects,” Baumann argues. “There is some justification because there are more and more competitive teams. Breaking up Yugoslavia has done that. With 16 you don’t know what will happen.
“On the other hand, it should still be difficult to get to the European Championship. Otherwise, you dilute those efforts.”
Moves are afoot to amend the concept. It is understood that a proposal from the French Federation has been tabled which would see the 32 leading teams fight out a preliminary group round, involving home and away games, ahead of Eurobasket 2013 – in order to obtain 16 qualifiers for the finals.
That might be a workable compromise, hints Baumann, who is campaigning for 16 men’s teams in the Rio Olympics of 2016. But he has concerns about an increasingly enlarged calendar and its impact on the availability – and fitness – of the very best ballers. Less might be more.
“Do we need two European Championships in four years? Or should we be like football so we can have a better qualification system so that teams have more games at home?”
That idea is central to FIBA’s mission, that international basketball should solidify its own identity as a counterweight to the global reach of the NBA. More home ties equals more exposure on home soil and greater commercial opportunities, he said. Which, in turn, must accelerate a move away from the volunteer-based management of the past within national governing bodies and a irrevocable shift to the more professional structure which leading clubs already espouse.
The NBA is the model to which all others aspire. Yet, the North American league has its critics who are troubled by David Stern’s drive to relentlessly expand overseas.
“We have had our share of discussions on this subject,” Baumann reveals. “There are differences but never on the substance of the fact that they do things.”
There are political sensitivities involved. Due respect must be shown on both sides.
However Baumann is dismissive of those who would close their borders rather than capitalise on the global popularity of the NBA. Tap into their investment and their publicity machine, he says, rather than fearing it.
“They want to sell jerseys. They want to find partners. They want to increase their audience. That’s fine. It helps the game. If they play regular season games in London, people will come, you will write about it and basketball will grow.
“If someone from England Basketball picks up the phone and says ‘they didn’t give me 50 tickets, I only got 20’, I’ll say go to hell because you don’t understand the real value of their activity.”
Leader first and diplomat second, Baumann, foremost, is a big picture guy.
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