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Volume 6 No. 212
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FIBA President Yvan Mainini Talks Federation's Flagship Tournament, Olympics, Global Growth

The Int'l Basketball Federation (FIBA) has renamed its flagship tournament the FIBA Basketball World Cup (previously World Championship), and is going to overhaul the whole event in the years to come. FIBA will move its World Cup out of the shadow of the FIFA World Cup and make the qualification system easier and more visible. FIBA President YVAN MAININI talked with SBD Global about the changes to its World Cup event, NBA Commissioner David Stern's comments relating to the Olympic tournament and basketball's global growth potential.

Q: In 2014, Spain will host FIBA's first Basketball World Cup. Why the name change and what are your expectations for the tournament?
Yvan Mainini: The new name is short and catchy. The term "World Cup" is known by people all over the globe and resonates in different languages: Copa del Mundo, Coppa del Mondo, Coupe du Monde. This new name reflects the prestige that our tournament has as a premier international competition and allows for it to be recognized as what it truly is: one of the biggest global sporting events, along with the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Cricket World Cup. Our expectations for the tournament are the same as they always are -- we strive to constantly improve and come away saying that this was the best edition of our flagship event to date. That is our goal from every point of view -- level/quality of play, attendance, promotion, venues, etc.

Q: How satisfied are you with the acquisition of sponsorship deals for the competition?
Mainini: The sale of sponsorship packages for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup has been very successful and is almost complete with more than a year to go before the tournament. In a period when people regularly raise concerns about the state of the economy -- especially in Europe -- it is extremely encouraging to be able to count on a great group of companies. In addition, we concluded a very positive broadcast agreement with Mediaset España for the next three years with very strong exposure and commercial value which will benefit our sport. FIBA and the Spanish Basketball Federation (FEB) not only rely on their financial contributions, but just as importantly will need their promotional support to make the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup a resounding success worldwide.

Q: How do you try to increase the importance of the World Cup for the average fan?
The promotion for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup has already started and consists of regular activities both in Spain and internationally. We want to make it a build-up over the course of 18 months leading up to the tournament and not only focus on the two weeks of the event itself in September 2014. After 2014, one crucial way to increase the awareness is by moving the FIBA Basketball World Cup out of the shadow of the FIFA World Cup. That will come into play starting in 2017, when we introduce a new system of competition and calendar. The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be moved from 2018 to 2019 and become the main qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Games. Under the current system, national team competitions only take place in the summer and national teams get no visibility in their home countries. There is no easy-to-follow qualification system for the FIBA Basketball World Cup through the five continental zones. The participation of the best players for their respective national teams is often questionable because of too much wear and tear, and this system does not help the national federations. Under the new system, the FIBA Basketball World Cup will move to 2019 and be staged every four years thereafter, avoiding clashes with other major sporting events. It will also see its field increase from 24 to 32 teams (one host nation, five from Africa, seven from the Americas, seven from Asia/Oceania, 12 from Europe). Teams will qualify during an 18-month qualification period with six windows (November, February, June, September, November and February). The main benefits will be:

  • Improved basketball exposure: More than 140 countries playing -- 1,250 regular and meaningful games.
  • New interest for basketball: Regular official national team games in front of their home fans. Player-friendly system with one free summer: Maximizes the chance of having international stars in the flagship FIBA tournaments.
  • Opportunity for new countries and players to emerge through regular official games.
  • All-year regular visibility of the national team, not only in summer time -- creating synergies with club competitions.
  • Improved structure of lead-up to flagship national team tournaments: Clear "Road to" the main FIBA competitions.
  • Enhanced potential for commercial and media partners to be associated with the national teams and the main FIBA competitions.
  • Development of National Federations, giving them own assets, new tools and more resources.
  • Increased media exposure and promotion for national team basketball -- generating benefits across all FIBA Zones.
Q: The EuroBasket is arguably FIBA’s most important continental competition. What are your expectations for the 2013 edition in Slovenia? And how important is the participation of NBA players in regards to ticket, merchandise and sponsorship sales?
Mainini: Let’s be clear in saying that FIBA does not prioritize any continental championship over any other. All 10 of them -- both men’s and women’s championships across all five continental zones -- are vitally important to FIBA. We want top-level competition to take place at each and every one of those events and then to have the very best teams play in our own flagship events, the FIBA Basketball World Cup and the FIBA World Championship for Women. With that being said, the EuroBasket certainly is an event that generates a lot of buzz and has a huge following, not just throughout Europe but far beyond. As a result of that, the expectations are always high from every standpoint -- media coverage, attendance, level of competition, quality of games, etc. Of course the participation of NBA players is always welcomed and encouraged. It’s an added bonus as it means that teams are at full strength and feature their very best players. However, the EuroBasket -- more particularly FIBA Europe Properties -- doesn’t depend on this to boost the sales of tickets and obtain merchandise and sponsorship.

Q: NBA Commissioner David Stern made headlines last year when he called for an age limit of 23 for the Olympic basketball competition. What’s FIBA’s stance on this proposal?
Mainini: It’s important to understand the more general context within which that proposal was made. Basketball has grown exponentially since the 1992 Barcelona Games with, of course, the help of the NBA as well as other national and international leagues but also through the hard work of the National Federations. The sport has grown to the point where it truly is global. In order to keep that growth going and in order to make the most of it, we need to find ways of raising the profile of the leading international basketball tournaments -- namely the FIBA Basketball World Cup and the Olympic Basketball Tournament -- to new levels, as basketball has grown very strongly worldwide since. As part of that, FIBA and all stakeholders of the game are looking to find the best answer to the question: "How do we deal with the next 20 years?" David Stern’s suggestion of having U23 players is part of this general discussion. At FIBA, we believe that setting an age limit takes away the opportunity of a lifetime for players all over the world -- the honor and chance of playing at the Olympics. Take, for example, Tony Parker. He helped France qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2000 with a second-place at EuroBasket 2011. He then went to London and played in his first Olympics last summer at the age of 30. Had there been an age limit, he would have been denied the right to accomplish something he’s long said was a personal goal of his. There are countless examples of players in similar situations: Kobe Bryant represented the U.S. at the Olympics for the first time in 2008 and like Parker was 30 at that time.

Q: Do you think the London Games were the last to include NBA stars in the Olympic basketball tournament?
Mainini: No, I don’t believe so because players clearly want to play at the Olympics. But certainly there are a variety of issues around the tournament, especially from an NBA perspective. There’s the wear and tear on the players, the fact of having to be at the Games for 19 days, plus the it's pretty long. Therefore, there's an issue about the length of the tournament. That is why, on Feb. 1, FIBA submitted a bid to have the Men’s Olympic Basketball Tournament consist of 16 teams at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This is being examined by the IOC and a decision is expected when the IOC's Executive Board meets in Moscow this August.

Q: Where do you see the biggest market growth for basketball around the world? Are arenas in Asia, India and even Europe suitable to support the sport’s growth?
Mainini: We feel that basketball is in a very privileged position because it truly is a sport that is played and watched in just about every corner of the world. That being said, our key geographic targets for economic growth are represented by the emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa. For example, we know that the interest in basketball is particularly strong in a country like China, where it is the No. 1-ranked sport. There are always opportunities to explore and maximize that potential.