Mr. George Vassilakopoulos, President of FIBA Europe, gave a press conference today in Athens, Greece in which he discussed the reasons why FIBA Europe and ULEB were unable to reach an agreement for the 2002/2003 season and the upcoming FIBA Europe Champions Cup.
The press conference was attended by members of the European media as well as representatives from the Greek clubs Panathinaikos, AEK Athens, Maroussi Athens, PAOK Thessaloniki, Aris Thessaloniki, Peristeri and Panionis.
Mr Vassilakopoulos detailed each meeting between FIBA Europe and ULEB and listed the main reasons for the breakdown of negotiations as follows:
Mr. Vassilakopoulos also commented on ULEB's statement that "Those clubs who renounce a berth assigned to them in the ULEB Cup in order to participate in FIBA competitions will not be able to participate in future competitions organized by the ULEB." This directly opposes the values of the sports movement of the international federations and FIBA's primary role of "promoting amicable and courteous relations between national federations, Zone Commissions and their officials and players," as stated in the FIBA Bye-Laws. FIBA Europe does not wish to issue any threats and all clubs should be free to decide on which competition they participate in.
Mr. Vassilakopoulos announced publicly that according to documents distributed by ULEB to the clubs Telefonica and Euroleague have no written contract. He referred to documentation between Euroleague and the clubs that show that the amount original amount announced by ULEB for distribution of the clubs of $35 million has been reduced to $20 million, and in addition, all expenses for Euroleague referees and commissioners are paid for by the participating clubs.
Furthermore, he added that ULEB is speculating as to which clubs would compete in their 2002/2003 competitions, as clubs from Greece, Lithuania, Russia, Germany and Turkey were not present at ULEB's last meeting on 7th July, in Barcelona, Spain.
Mr. Vassilakopoulos spoke in general on the current situation sport faces in Europe and the problems resulting from the bankruptcy of ISL and Kirch Media. He commented that in such an unsure atmosphere it is necessary for sporting bodies to come together and unify. He also reiterated the statement made by IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge at the meeting of the FIBA Europe General Assembly on 10th May in Oostende, Belgium where he said, "We have to keep the current pyramidal structure of the International Federations. There is indeed a major danger in sport: it is the creation of breakaway leagues. And you had this in your sport with the SuproLeague and the Euroleague. This definitely, in my humble opinion, is not a blessing for sport in general, and definitely not for your sport. I believe that in our continent it would be a dramatic error to go into the American system of the closed franchises who generate a lot of money but do not redistribute this money to the basis. And as much as possible the sport movement should keep this solidarity model of the pyramid, where the top helps the small clubs."
FIBA Europe Champions Cup
In the second section of the press conference, Mr. Vassilakopoulos talked about how to present and promote the Champions Cup and the new structure of FIBA Europe where certain responsibilities will be decentralised.
This new structure consists of many former international star players such as Mr. Sarunas Marciulionis (Managing Director of the Northern Conference), Mr. Predrag Danilovic (member of the Board of FIBA Europe), Mr. Kosta Illiev (Managing Director of the Southern Conference), Mr. Jose Antonio Montero Botanch (Managing Director of the Western Conference and Mr. Alexander Volkov (member of the Board of FIBA Europe).
Recent meetings regarding the upcoming season with the Northern and Southern Conference have been held and a meeting with the Western Conference will take place on 12th July.
The clubs participating in the Champions Cup will be announced on 21st July, 2002 after an informal FIBA Europe working meeting to discuss European club competitions in Stuttgart, Germany.
As stated on 1st July 2002, the first phase of the Champions Cup will be played in three Conferences (North, South and West) and will be followed by a Pan-European phase and a Final Four.
A Golden Group will be established to accommodate the needs of stronger clubs wishing to play in the competition. The Golden Group will be played either in two groups of six or one group of twelve and will run parallel to the Conference Phase of the Champions Cup. The criteria for clubs to join the Golden Group will be based on the FIBA Europe Club Ranking and the standing of the individual club in its national league.
The Conferences will each consist of 24 clubs (72 in total) to be split into four groups of six clubs per Conference. The top clubs from each group (12 in total) will qualify to the pan-European phase, along with the eight top clubs from the Golden Group. The bottom four clubs from the Golden Group will play direct elimination (home and away) with the four second-placed Conference clubs with the best records.
The total of 24 qualified clubs will advance to the Pan-European phase which will culminate in a Final Four to be played in May, 2002.