After a five year wait, EuroBasket 2022 is almost here. Emmet Ryan explains why this edition of the tournament promises to be a memorable entity for all sorts of reasons
What have Malta, Ireland, and Armenia all got in common? They’ve all won men’s senior European titles since the last edition of EuroBasket. That’s just one of the oddities of the upcoming edition, across Berlin, Cologne, Milan, Prague, and Tbilisi in September.
EuroBasket could, in theory, have undergone a similar process a year ago but that would rather miss the entire point of the event which is meant to be a festival of basketball. Germany’s restrictions meant there was never a hope of fans being allowed anywhere near the Mercedes-Benz Arena for the knockout stages and, while a champion would have been crowned, it wouldn’t have felt anywhere near the same.
The pandemic, of course, isn’t the only factor at play. Long before the average person knew terms like Covid-19, contact tracing, or mRNA even existed, this was set to be the longest gap between editions of EuroBasket since World War II.
FIBA’s calendar switch to make the event quadrennial took away the almost rushed nature of the competition. Every two years, a new champion would be crowned even if there was a while where that inevitably felt like Spain (despite the fact that La Roja only won two of their three titles since 2009 in consecutive editions).
The packed impact that had on the international calendar meant that who would be available proved to be a debate around every competition. Granted, that hasn’t exactly died down for this edition but the breathing room means that the top stars recognise its importance as a standalone event compared the uneven nature of competitions past where editions with Olympic qualification being involved carried a touch more weight.
EuroBasket, today, is now purely about being the champions of Europe and its a moniker the champion will hold for four years. Or rather it will be for whoever wins in 2025 as there pandemic delay means there’s only a three year gap.
It also means the planned built-in summer off from international tournament play also moved significantly. This was meant to be the year in this cycle without a major tournament, with the World Cup having moved to the odd numbered year before the Olympics. Instead, we’ve got EuroBasket in September, the World Cup across three nations in Asia in September 2023, and then the Olympics in Paris in July and August 2024, followed by EuroBasket once more in 2025. There’s no break year until 2026, so the plans on the break year haven’t been perfect.
All of this however is nothing quite like the wait. When the court emptied in Istanbul in 2017, the idea of the following summer having no major tournament felt like a relief for me as a journalist. It’s not like there wasn’t going to be plenty of other sport to occupy the senses.
That relative lack of wait for EuroBasket had become all too familiar over the years that the stretch of waiting 4 years, which became 5, wasn’t easy to comprehend for fans until facing it.
Yet there is something to gain, something that at least one other sport has lost. The European Athletics Championships stood out as a quadrennial tournament where its World Championships was biennial. The bigger event had more of a sprint, between that and the Olympics there was a chance to be considered the best in the world 3 out of 4 years. The chance for the more local vibe of continental glory being rarer made the Euros feel special in that regard.
Ever since switching to biennial, that magic has been unquestionably lost. The Euros are, for the very best athletes on the continent, just another stop in the season and have been subsumed into the wider European Championships in multiple sports, including rowing and swimming.
That makes for a great festival on a wider scale but also distracts from what made them unique. The rushed nature of EuroBasket of the past stood out but, now, it’s having that room to breathe that gives it the special air.
See you in Berlin…or Milano first if you catch me there.