Only one wildcard left in the race

2014-01-30T20:12:45+00:00 2014-07-25T17:23:10+00:00.

Aris Barkas

30/Jan/14 20:12

On Saturday we will officially know which four teams will get the FIBA World Cup wildcards, but the race is almost over and in reality only one spot is left unoccupied as China, Brazil and Turkey are a lock. Greece and Russia are the favorites for the last spot

By Aris Barkas/

On Saturday we will officially know which four teams will get the FIBA World Cup wildcards, but the race is almost over and in reality only one spot is left unoccupied.

Thirteen teams, Nigeria from Africa, Brazil, Canada and Venezuela from Americas, China and Qatar from Asia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Israel, Poland, Russia and Turkey from Europe after the withdrawal of Italy and Germany are hoping for the “golden ticket”. However, three of them can make their plans for Spain. China, Brazil and Turkey have already the wildcard in their pockets – pun intended – and the reason behind this decision is mainly financial. It was evident when FIBA announced its criteria that money will play the most pivotal role in the final decision and thankfully that will be the last time that the wildcard system will be used for a World Cup. FIBA in its initial press release asked bluntly for money, as a “donation for the worldwide promotion of basketball through FIBA’s International Basketball Foundation (IBF)”.  So FIBA couldn’t ignore three of the biggest markets in the world, China, Brazil and Turkey, specially with Brazil hosting the upcoming Olympic games and with BEKO, the main sponsor of FIBA World Cup, being a Turkish company. That’s why the final decision will leave undoubtedly a sour taste to everyone’s mouth, no matter which will be the fourth team selected.

According to most sources near the situation, the main candidates for the fourth spot are Russia and Greece, followed by Canada, Finland and Qatar. The situation in Russia is quite murky, because of the recent accusations of an alleged attempt to fix the federation’s elections. Still Russia has money to spend  and the sixth spot in FIBA’s Men ranking. The real question is if Russia really wants to be in the World Cup after its failed Eurobasket 2013 without stars like Kirilenko and Khryapa, or start building a new team for the future during the Eurobasket 2015 qualifying round under new coach Pashutin.

That’s why there is a recent optimism in Greece about getting the fourth open spot. Greece has the results (5th in the ranking), the tradition, a roster which can include NBA rookie sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek NT never in the past needed a wildcard and also managed to get the money needed from the federation’s main sponsor, Eurobank. We will get back to Greece, but let’s take a look to the other three teams still mentioned in the race. Qatar’s advantage is simple: money, but nothing else. Finland can be used in order to promote the sport in Scandinavia and had a good performance in the last Eurobasket. Canada has a new national team program in place with Steve Nash in charge and some great – but unproven – talent in the roster. In all three cases, they are at least one step behind the other two traditional powerhouses in international basketball. That’s why the fourth spot will probably end up being a duel between Russia and Greece.

How come Greece in the middle of the bigger economic crisis after the second world war can be a contender? That’s becoming a debate even inside the country, as two members of the parliament asked officially the government to address the issue. However, they are just trying to reap political benefits from a situation they are not familiar with. According to Eurohoops sources, the Greek federation tried hard in order to secure the initial fee of 500.000 USD. Suddenly ten days ago, FIBA started asking for one million Swiss francs, or if you prefer 830.000 euros, as the Italian federation openly said during the press conference in which the country withdrawn its application for a wildcard. It’s unclear if the extra money are considered a “donation” to IBF or not. The main sponsor of the federation, Eurobank, gave a letter of guarantee for the money, which is expected to be returned if Greece doesn’t get a wildcard. Also, the television contract signed by FIBA with Greek television stations ANT1 and OTE TV have clauses about extra money being given to the international federation if the Greek national team gets to play in the World Cup.  That means Greece can be the perfect alibi for FIBA. A small market team with the basketball tradition and the recent results which deserves a wildcard, but also pays enough money to get it.

We will know on Saturday if that’s the case. In the meanwhile, we consider at least hypocritical for any federation to withdraw for “ethical reasons” just before the end of the race. If they had any ethical reasons to not participate in a bidding war, they should have made it clear when FIBA announced its priorities. Nobody did nothing then, on the contrary everyone tried to benefit from the situation. As for the money from the Greek side, there is indeed a thorn. Eurobank is a private bank, but like every bank in Greece it was saved or if you prefer “stabilized” by the bail out plan for the country’s debts, essentially with money from Greek taxpayers and loans from Europe and IMF…