There was a surprising development in the conflict between Euroleague and FIBA last week as Irish MEP Seán Kelly, former president of the GAA in Ireland, was one of 31 signatories on a letter to the European Commission that sided heavily with FIBA. BiE’s Emmet Ryan spoke to both Kelly and Euroleague COO Eduard Scott about the latest development
Irish MEP Seán Kelly has inserted himself into a dispute between the two largest power-brokers in European basketball.
Kelly, who served as president of the GAA from 2003 to 2006, was one of 31 MEPs who signed a letter to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, culture and sports commissioner Tibor Navracsics, and competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
In the letter, the MEPs have asked the commission to take “urgent action” to intervene in the conflict between the sport’s governing body, FIBA, and the continent’s top league, Euroleague.
The dispute relates to the availability of players for national team participation and the MEPs have asked the commission to intervene as they believe Euroleague in breach of EU law by preventing players from being available for national sides.
The letter was sent as the first games impact by this action, qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, take place this coming Friday.
No Irish players are affected by the action nor are there any Irish sides participating in the games in question but Kelly said he felt the need to act with the other MEPs.
“When it’s sport I take a special interest and, in this instance, I feel they [FIBA] have a genuine case. It’s discrimination against individual players which is counter to good governance, the urgency of the matter meant we had to move quickly,” said Kelly, who sites with the EPP in the European Parliament.
Kelly said he had not spoken with Euroleague regarding the matter yet but that he hoped to within the next week. He said he would also consider reaching out to other Irish MEPs and other EPP MEPs for support in the coming week.
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The Fine Gael MEP for Ireland South said he wanted the commission to act as an “honest broker” in the process.
“See if they can get both sides together and come to some arrangement. If not, then I hope they [the commission] would look at it as being anti-competitive and counter to good governance,” he said.
“The best resolution to anything is through negotiation. There doesn’t seem to be a mechanism there to do that now but I feel the European Commission, especially the cultural commissioner, could fill that role and resolve it,”
“It should be easy to resolve but often people can be stubborn.”
Before we continue, this story was originally being produced for my day job with the Sunday Business Post. Due to space constraints caused, in no small part, by a couple of big things breaking late in Ireland, it didn’t run today. Instead, we’re running an extended version here…which actually works out nicely as it means we can include far more of what Euroleague’s Eduard Scott had to say. Now, back to the story..
Eduard Scott, chief operating officer of Euroleague, said the league had no rule restricting players from playing for their national teams and that the decisions on participating would be made by individual players.
“There’s no regulation that prevents or block players from playing for their national teams, it’s an individual decisions player by player. We wouldn’t have any problem with players that make a choice to accept the call-up from their national teams,” said Scott.
“It’s not managed centrally by the league. As is amply demonstrated by Six Nations rugby and the African Cup of Nations in football, there is no legal impediment for club competitions and national team competitions to run side by side.”
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Scott took issue with the points made in the letter signed by the 31 MEPs.
“The letter itself contains a few sort of half-truths unfortunately which are being shared to skew the message being sent to the commission regarding this topic. The problem that exists right now with the new FIBA calendar is a global problem, where national federations are forced top play games without their best players available,” he said.
“It’s a global problem because basketball is, unfortunately, unlike association football or other sports because we have a global reality called the NBA. The best players of the world are in that competition. All of the national federations that have players in the NBA and NCAA are negatively impacted by the new calendar. It’s unfortunately inaccurate to state it’s a European problem, it’s a global problem,”
“We don’t believe it’s the best solution for the promotion of sport to have things running in paralel but, from a purely legal or regulatory perspective, it can and does happen. Players are free to play for national teams if they wish.”
The Euroleague COO said that the issue with FIBA wasn’t about being treated as equals but extended to broader issues within basketball.
“It’s not so much about being equals, there’s a core of big issues at the origin of this new project. A practical example being that the system works in football because when there’s a national team break, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will travel around the world to play for their national teams. If that were the reality in the sport of basketball, then we’d be entirely in favour. Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” said Scott.
“The USA has released their roster, they’ll be using 11 G League players and 1 free agent. It doesn’t just affect them, it affects Canada, Spain, Brazil, Croatia, Serbia, and basically all of the best nations around the world. It’s not a concern about equal or unequal treatment, the challenge is that national federations are forced to put out B rate rosters. By extensions the fan interest and media interest as a whole is suffering,”
“There are national team players in NCAA basketball also not being called up. It’s a global issue in that sense.”
Regarding what, if any, action the commission expects to take on the letter, Scott said Euroleague was in regular contact with the commission.
“The commission have been studying a complaint submitted by Euroleague basketball for the last 18 months. FIBA submitted a counter complaint two months later which is also being studied. The commission have been doing their homework for the past two years. We are acutely in touch with the commission for more global concerns than the basketball calendar.”
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