China is going to host the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup between August 31 and September 15 following a five-year break. FIBA has come up with a number of innovations for this tournament as it decided to avoid holding the championship during the same year as the 2018 FIFA World Cup, introducing a two-year period for qualifying matches and last weekend it staged a draw ceremony in China’s Shenzhen, where tickets were sold out well in advance.
In an interview with TASS correspondent Andrey Kartashov, FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis speaks about the preparations for the Basketball World Cup, the tournament’s financial details, as well as about the current state of affairs regarding the National Basketball League (NBA) and the EuroLeague.
— What does FIBA expect from the upcoming tournament? How much do the preparations cost including FIBA’s share? How much did China allocate to the organization of the tournament and what proceeds does FIBA expect to get in return?
Our top priority is to deliver top quality basketball, that can be enjoyed by fans all over the world and help grow the popularity of our sport. As for the numbers, FIBA has reinvested more than 20 million euro into growing the World Cup. After the 265 million euro economic impact from Spain 2014, we are very confident that this edition will clearly reach unprecedented levels, because of the improved exposure through qualifiers, the number of teams (32 instead of 24) and the number of games (92 instead of 74 games), the venues’ bigger capacity and therefore a larger market.
— The World Cup Draw ceremony was held last weekend. What was interesting and special about this ceremony?
This is the first ever Draw in the history of our sport that has turned into a real event and certainly one of the best attended Draws in sports history ever. It was a ticketed event and sold out – 8,000 people were present in the Shenzhen venue, together with a number of basketball dignitaries and of course Kobe Bryant and Jason Derulo who provided the star power. The Draw was broadcast live around the globe through conventional TV, YouTube and Facebook.
— What is your expectation of the basketball fans’ turnout at the upcoming World Cup?
We have high hopes that this tournament will surpass all expectations. It is hard to estimate right now as the ticket sales have only recently opened and the sample is rather small. There are four different categories of tickets, so something for every fan and every possible need. We are working with our partners in China we are certain that the venues will not only be full but will also offer a unique experience to local and foreign visitors.
— What can be said about security measures at the tournament? Will there be particularly heightened security measures in force in host cities?
The highest level of security is ensured for the World Cup. Let’s not forget that, by definition, China is a country that pays extra attention to security for all events in its territory while they also have the added experience from the Olympics in 2008. FIBA has added all its know-how and event experience to the mix and we are guaranteed a top-level approach.
— What can you say about the inaugural series of the qualifying tournament ahead of this World Cup?
We have placed the World Cup at the top of our competition structure. In terms of size the Qualifiers were the biggest event we have ever put in place in almost 90 years of our history; we took care of a centralized TV production of all games, working hand in hand with the 80 national federations that participated in the Qualifiers and our five regional offices. And, of course, we have in front of us a World Cup where every game counts because of the Olympics. All this will provide a great opportunity to our federations to grow.
In the 16 months between November 2017 and February 2018 the Qualifiers project has been a big success for basketball. It brought national team basketball back to the fans, during the season; there have been countries where the fans have not watched their team play a competitive game at home in over a decade or even more. This was detrimental to the development of basketball in the country. So many of the games were sold-outs. The teams had the chance to identify new talent and help create a deeper roster – especially in view of the upcoming World Cup for those who qualified. Any way we look at it the overall conclusion is positive.
— In the future, will we see national teams playing in the qualifiers with an optimal roster? When are the clubs going to easily send their players to join the national teams?
The optimal squad is perhaps a question for the coaches. With regard to the availability of all players for each qualifying window, this is something that all stakeholders should work on to help achieve the best possible result.
— With whom does FIBA have a better relationship at the moment: with the Euroleague or with the NBA?
FIBA is the governing body of basketball in the world; our mission is to develop and grow the sport, which effectively means that we are obliged to maintain a working relationship with all stakeholders of the game. Both NBA and EuroLeague, as leagues, are two of those stakeholders, meaning they are part of the structure. That said, it is true that FIBA has an excellent working relationship with the NBA, with who we run several projects around the globe and have recently partnered in the creation of the Basketball Africa League which is set to launch in 2020.
— How does FIBA look at the prospect of top clubs’ leave from the national championships and playing in EuroLeague only?
In team sport competitions, especially in Europe, the clubs that participate in continental club competitions they do so on merit, meaning achieve their participation through their position in their national leagues. A closed league, depriving some national leagues of some of their top teams, could have immediate damaging effects for those national leagues, especially financially (e.g. less money coming in from TV rights) and long lasting effects for development of basketball in that particular country.
— What is FIBA’s evaluation of the Champions League and its development?
We are very pleased and so are our partners in the Basketball Champions League – the 11 national leagues and ULEB that are 50 percent shareholders. In less than three years, the Basketball Champions League has made huge steps towards establishing itself as the clear destination for clubs that achieve qualification through their national league success. This year we were happy to welcome two of Europe’s top clubs – Bamberg and Hapoel Jerusalem – a further proof that the project is appealing because it is fair. The numbers are also there to support our claims. The digital growth of the league is unparalleled in the basketball world, in terms of how quickly and effectively it was achieved.
— Is it possible that a situation similar to the one in the NHL could happen with the NBA prohibiting its players from playing at the Olympics?
We do not foresee such scenario. The participation of professional basketball players in the Olympics, including those from the NBA is something that was agreed 30 years ago, to make sure that the game’s top talent gets a chance to showcase their skills in the Games. And that included the talent from every country, not just the US. As mentioned, we have an excellent working relationship with the NBA. The NBA is an organization that runs a top-notch league but also has a global view of what is beneficial to the game – and getting the chance to expose the game’s top talent in the Olympics scene is definitely one of those benefits.
— Speaking about the development of basketball on a global scale – it seems that the NBA is getting brighter, and basketball in all other parts of the world is getting dimmer and duller. Does FIBA consider this as a problem? What steps could be taken to change this situation?
Our partnership with the NBA is currently experiencing a great era; it’s a partnership that has expanded from the making-players-available-at-tournaments one to a fully institutional partnership with the Deputy Commissioner of the NBA sitting at the FIBA Central Board and the Executive Committee. In other words, the NBA are part of the decision making process in World Basketball.
I think you are looking only at the league itself but, as mentioned, the NBA goes beyond those 30 franchises and what they do outside their own league can only be seen as an added value to our sport. Their philosophy of helping grow the community of the sport around the world is paramount to the FIBA development strategy. I need only mention the Basketball Without Borders which is a joint initiative between NBA and FIBA and which been conducted annually since 2001 with 56 camps in 35 cities across 28 countries on six continents. Focused on elite talent, BWB has reached more than 3,300 participants from 129 countries and territories. And more than 250 different current and former NBA/WNBA players have joined the project during those 18 years.