Andrey Shirokov:
We're In Talks With FIBA And Awaiting A Proposal From Euroleague

Executives from FIBA and various European federations, national leagues and clubs met on Monday in Munich to discuss the future of European basketball and, in particular, plans for a new club competition next season: the FIBA Champions League. A delegation from the VTB United League, headed by general director Andrey Shirokov, took part in the event.

Shirokov spoke with VTB-League.com about the results of the meeting in Munich, the conflict of interest between FIBA and the Euroleague, possible changes in European club basketball and the impact on VTB United League clubs.

- I'll begin by saying that a critical situation has developed for European club basketball. We've seen a sharp decline in quality in the past, due to the fact that the best players leave for the NBA and lower quality imports are arriving to replace them. This results in a drop of quality throughout the continent. It's understandable why European players leave for the NBA. What´s tragic is not having new European players replacing ones that are leaving. Clubs do not have financial incentives to develop new players. There is no system of transfers like there is in football. Everything is still holding together only because of enthusiasm of individual clubs and leagues... In such situation it's essential to have transparent acceptance criteria to the top European competition based on results from the clubs' participation in their respective domestic leagues, which is a fact that then serves as the biggest stimulus for player and club development.

Now we've reached an even more critical situation in which Europe essentially remains without a strong club competition. I'm talking about the new Euroleague format, in which only 11 clubs have received guaranteed spots. What about the other teams? Where are they supposed to play and develop? We don´t have the right to guide and say what´s right for everyone in Europe, but we must take care of the Russian clubs and all the clubs in the VTB United League. The people who have invested money in these clubs will be stripped of the opportunity to play in the top European competition. That will result in further decline in European basketball. As VTB United League president Sergey Kushchenko loves to repeat: "We must protect investments in basketball!"

- Then those who were selected to be among the 11 lucky clubs must be satisfied!
-  In the mid term, no. After a year or two, the gap between the powerhouses and the rest of the clubs will be enormous. The top clubs will have the money, but there won't be any players on the European market worth it. There simply won't be high-level players in Europe. I've talked about this with many top clubs, including CSKA. Everyone has an identical understanding. Honestly, let any basketball fan play a fantasy manager and answer the following question: Whom do you replace De Colo and Teodosic with, even if you have the budget? Give me some names!

- In other words, do you agree with Russian Basketball Federation president Andrei Kirilenko's recent statement that the new Euroleague format is an absolute evil for the Russian clubs?
- I only disagree with one thing: I think that the responsibility for the current situation needs to be shared equally between the Euroleague and FIBA. After all, it was FIBA that first proposed the format that the Euroleague ultimately adopted with only a few minor alterations. And, as a result, we will have two European competitions. One, which is based on clubs' results in their domestic leagues but missing 11 powerhouses. And the other one, which includes 4-5 top European teams, but without transparent and logical acceptance criteria.

Note that three Russian representatives of the VTB United League have an excellent chance of making it to the Euroleague quarterfinals this season! Knowing the history of our relationship with the Euroleague, given how the VTB United League's clubs are competing in the European cups this season--Khimki, Lokomotiv-Kuban, UNICS, Zenit--the Euroleague should have offered our league the first available open spot to its top competition. There's no explanation for why that hasn’t happened! Especially, considering the clubs' performance as well as the considerable income the Euroleague has received from our side in recent years.

- What does the VTB United League plan to do given the circumstances? What was your position and what conclusions did you reach based on the meeting in Munich?

- Of course, prior to our trip to Munich, we consulted with the top Russian clubs and agreed on a clear strategy. We all hold a unified position and are acting according to it. FIBA Champions League was supposed to be established on Monday in Munich and the VTB United League was offered to be one of its shareholders. The signing of founding documents was supposed to take place, but this was ultimately postponed until March 2. After this, FIBA proposed to sign a general declaration, which would essentially confirm participation of clubs from those countries (with the exception of at least 11 clubs that already have a contract with the Euroleague) in FIBA competitions. Everyone signed the declaration except for the VTB United League, Spain, Germany and the Adriatic League.

Why didn't we sign? Formally and per VTB United League Regulations we need to have the approval of the League Board in order to sign any legally binding documents. That's why we proposed postponing the issue. But I won't hide that we have a lot of pending questions for FIBA at the present time of organizational and legal matters, as well as questions concerning competition. With that said, the key point is that our league has always taken a firm, strong stand without frequent changing of sides. We are upfront about the fact that we have been partners with the Euroleague in recent years and are its shareholders. Therefore, without an in-depth discussion with the Euroleague, which should take place in February, we can't take any drastic steps. First of all, we need to carefully listen to the Euroleague's representatives and understand how they look upon our future partnership. The league is waiting for proposals that will be suitable for both the league and our clubs. We are ready to consider a new proposal from the Euroleague. If we don't receive it and the situation remains the same as it is today, then I don't see any reason why we should continue our partnership with the Euroleague. Why would we continue cooperation if the VTB United League doesn't have a direct qualification to the Euroleague?

That said, I admit that we are already holding fairly solid discussions with FIBA and have submitted a decent amount of modifications and comments to the proposed agreements concerning the Champions League. Our lawyer together with a specially contracted counterpart in Swiss law, who has experience with top European leagues, have thoroughly and in great detail studied and will continue to study all of the documents from FIBA. And, I must say, FIBA has agreed with some of our proposals. In addition, we are coordinating our position together with the Spanish, German and Greek leagues. We've essentially created a type of club where we share our positions and views with regard to the new FIBA competition.

We have been up front about our position with FIBA. They know that if our league doesn't receive an adequate proposal from the Euroleague, we'll then turn to more detailed negotiations about partnership with the FIBA Champions League.

- In addition to the national federations and leagues, many club executives were in Munich. What is their position on the situation with the European cups?
- Yes, many club representatives came to Munich. They're also not thrilled about the current situation and the new Euroleague format. For example, Lokomotiv-Kuban, Khimki, UNICS and Nizhny Novgorod came from Russia. Valencia and Unicaja attended from Spain. Most of the clubs expressed their belief that the Eurocup's future existence is in serious jeopardy in combination with the Euroleague´s new format. According to FIBA executives, several countries--such as France, Italy, Turkey and Greece--have already with certainty declined participation in the Eurocup next season. Apart from those national leagues, also leagues of Belgium, Israel, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Netherlands and ULEB signed the FIBA declaration. They are all ready to partner with FIBA, to support their competitions and to participate in the Champions League.

As for the top Russian clubs, you need to clearly understand that they are not interested in participating in the Eurocup. But let me repeat that the clubs' position and our league's position will depend on the Euroleague. We are waiting for a proposal from them. It should be a convincing proposal for us all that would advocate continuation in cooperation with the Euroleague. At the same time we need to position ourselves and objectively evaluate the current situation: I'm not confident that the format, which is now being proposed by the Euroleague--without Khimki and Lokomotiv-Kuban--will make it much more attractive than our league. After all, at least half of the Euroleague's teams with an A license aren't stronger than the top eight teams in the VTB United League. No one has come up with a better system yet than qualifying for a competition through results in the domestic league. An obvious example would be the UEFA Champions League which truly features Europe's strongest clubs.

Everything I've said above does not mean that we are going to break off ties with the Euroleague. But I'll say it again, if we and the clubs don't receive a worthy proposal, there won't be a single reason for the league to continue our partnership with the Euroleague. The clubs are free to make their own decisions as for where and with whom they play. But, as of today, I know that the top Russian clubs and the league share an identical view. That’s why the VTB United League can´t and won’t accept a situation in which it doesn’t have a direct spot in the Euroleague.