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Finland coach blasts EuroLeague for jeopardizing health of basketball, stresses need for compromise

Henrik Dettmann (FIN) - France v Finland, 2017 FIBA EuroBasket Final Round, Helsinki - Helsinki Arena(FIN), Group Phase, 31 August 2017. (Photo: FIBA)

HELSINKI, October 17, 2017 - Finland coach Henrik Dettmann has launched a robust defense of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers windows and denounced the EuroLeague as a "grave danger for not only European basketball, but the whole of institutionalized sport."

In an interview with his country's basketball federation website, the coach that has steered the Susijengi into the last four FIBA EuroBaskets and helped take the sport in his homeland to new heights has branded the EuroLeague as hypocrites when they rejected a recent attempt at a compromise by FIBA related to the World Cup Qualifiers windows.

"It's absurd that EuroLeague released a statement claiming they are worried about how much the players have to travel in the national team windows," Dettmann said. "Back in 2016, EuroLeague decided to nearly double their own regular season game totals."

Dettmann chastised the EuroLeague for how it operates.

"While EuroLeague has the grand ambition to form an 'NBA of Europe', factually the league has only been shrinking throughout the years," he said. "EuroLeague is run by a handful of elite clubs and for the rest, their business is highly unprofitable. Meanwhile, the millionaire moguls running the show in the EuroLeague are only interested in individual success of the clubs.

"At worst, EuroLeague is like a superpower in geopolitical chess. It divides the wealth between a handful of friends, tries to influence the middle class - also known as the spectators - with mind games and circus, rattles their weapons against anyone that disagrees with them and moves internationally agreed borders slowly, inch by inch, so that no one can take notice before it's too late."

10,000 Finnish fans traveled to watch the Susijengi at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo: FIBA)

Dettmann cited the important role that national federations have always had for players.

"The path of young players from their own back yard to the top of the world is traditionally built upon national federations," he said. "If this path were to be cut off, the whole market would be filled with a huge number of free agents that are eager to pick the fruits from the trees but are not ready to grow, nourish and trim the tree itself. A prime example of this is the NCAA bribe scandal last month.

"EuroLeague follows business logic and business logic only. It presents a grave danger for not only European basketball, but the whole of institutionalized sport as well. We're talking about something much bigger than just a couple of qualifiers games here and there. We're talking about referee education, junior player development, the basic everyday operations of basketball clubs."

Dettmann says basketball is not the only sport under threat by the way the EuroLeague conducts its business.

"First they take basketball, then they move on to the next one," he said. "The next one in line might be soccer, since soccer is much a bigger industry than basketball in Europe."

The veteran coach says the EuroLeague, in its criticism of the World Cup Qualifiers, is wrong to compare itself to the NBA and the NCAA, which are not compelled to release players for the November and February World Cup Qualifiers windows.

"The comparison to the NBA and NCAA is also beyond my understanding," Dettmann said. "The NBA and NCAA operate on a whole different continent and in completely different conditions than EuroLeague. These two American leagues and the EuroLeague can't be compared."

With the EuroLeague refusing to budge on its insistence that its games must be played during the windows, Dettmann says players are being put under unnecessary pressure. FIBA recently offered a compromise that was rejected by the EuroLeague.

"The biggest threat is that if there is no compromise solution, the clubs and national teams roll the ball to the players and let them make the decision," Dettmann said. "But the players' job is to play, not to fight somebody else's wars."

Dettmann referred to Spanish basketball, where national team coach Sergio Scariolo is expected to name a roster for the World Cup Qualifiers that has players on clubs that compete in the EuroLeague.

"What makes this interesting is that Jorge Garbajosa of Spanish Basketball Federation has been told to invite all the EuroLeague players to the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, since it would be against the Spanish law if the players were not to participate in national team duties," he said. "We'll see what happens in this case."

Players often cite the national team as being the most important one they play for. Miami Heat star Goran Dragic recently called Slovenia's FIBA EuroBasket 2017 title triumph the highlight of his career. When it comes to the national side, the players want to wear the shirt of their country. They crave for the opportunity to do so before their own fans.

"The whole idea of national team sports is based on payback principle," said Dettmann, who also had a spell as Germany coach and led them to a Third-Place finish at the 2002 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Indianapolis. "When a player represents his home country, they reach out to their country and basketball community - the whole extended family behind them. Players represent their national teams when they identify their roots, want to give back and share the common good.

"During my 25 years as a national team head coach, I have seen time and time again how important the national team is to all the players and how sincerely they want to play in front of the people who have been behind them as well as the next generations.

"People running the EuroLeague do not recognize the relationship between players and national teams. When they suggested how the whole national team activities should be organized in July - Olympic Games, too - it said everything about them and the principles they follow."

Slovenia's EuroBasket 2017 triumph was the highlight of Goran Dragic's career. (Photo: FIBA)

Dettmann also pointed out the need for FIBA to make decisions in the best interest of the sport.

"Naturally," he said, "FIBA has gone through tough times but they have learned from their past mistakes and nowadays, they are a prime example of a modern sports organization understanding transparency, democracy and principles of bylaws.

"If no one were to take responsibility in the totality of the game as a whole, there would be no common good. There would only be a dog-eat-dog world filled with self-proclaimed caliphates who only try to gather as much power and money as possible."

Hence, FIBA deemed the need for national team games throughout the year as critical and not just during summers.

"For anyone in the entertainment industry, it is mandatory to operate in the market full-time," Dettmann said. "While EuroLeague has improved its brand these past years, Real Madrid can gather only a tenth of the attendance ratings the Spanish national team can. With the German national team in 2002, we challenged soccer in TV ratings during the FIBA World Cup.

"National teams can rally the large crowds around them and ignite dreams and create space for the sport to grow. For instance, at EuroBasket 2017, Finland and Slovenia turned into phenomena. The Susijengi tripled the TV ratings of Finland's soccer national team, even though soccer has seven times the number of players in Finland compared to basketball.

"The return to the national team window system is only a small part of a bigger totality. It is a remarkable fight in the battle between the basic fundamentals and principles of sports against faceless market forces."

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