Nicolas Weisz
Business & Sports Lawyer / Sport Agent

A major conflict has been opposing since a year the most powerful basketball institutions in Europe, Euroleague Basketball and FIBA Europe. Is called into question the organizationsof mens’ european clubs competitions.

This conflict gathers not only sports but also politics and legal issues that shall be explained.

  • Organization of mens’ clubs competitions in Europe

The organization of European competitions are shared between Euroleague Basketball and FIBA Europe:

 -Euroleague Basketball, a private company registered in Spain was created in 2000 by the most powerful national leagues (part of ULEB – Union des Ligues Européennes de Basketball.)

 -FIBA Europe, private association registered in Germany whose members are European national federations (FIBA Europe is part of FIBA world, Swiss registered association).

 

Up to season 2015/2016, they were sharing the organization of 3 competitions:

-Turkish Airlines Euroleague (« C1 ») by Euroleague Basketball.

-Eurocup (« C2 ») by Euroleague Basketball.

-Europe Cup (« C3 ») by FIBA Europe.

 

  • Relationships between Euroleague Basketball and FIBA Europe

So far, Euroleague Basketball have had primacy over FIBA Europe to organize the major competitions in Europe.

Due to its private and independent structure, Euroleague Basketball proposes competitions economically and sportively very attractive.

In the background, FIBA Europe remains solely sovereign to elaborate and harmonize the regulations of basketball, and to organize international competitions for national teams.

Although these institutions have been collaborating since 2000, we assist to an actual “cold war”, Euroleague Basketball being under the spotlights of European clubs’ competitions, contrary to FIBA Europe..

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  • The « coup d’Etat » of FIBA

After more than 15 years of cohabitation, FIBA Europe unilaterally decided to organize the 2 major competitions for 2016/2017 season, named Champions League (C1) and Europe Cup (C2) in place of Euroleague Basketball.

To do so, FIBA has created a private company registered in Switzerland, the Basketball Champions League, with FIBA (50%) et 10 national leagues (50%) as shareholders.

To reach its goal, FIBA Europe sanctioned and threatened to sanction national federations that did not take action against its affiliated clubs refusing to join these new two competitions and keep supporting Euroleague Basketball. More specifically, the concerned federations have been excluded or threatened to be excluded from international competitions organized by FIBA such as Eurobasket, Olympics and World Cup.

As for justification, FIBA invokes articles 9.1 et 12 of its general statutes, according to which national federations shall insure that their clubs and players only participate in competitions approved by FIBA, which is no longer the case for Euroleague and Eurocup.

Thus, in virtue of 2 decisions dated 20 March and 15 April 2016, 14 national federations, including Spain, Serbia and Greece, were suspended from next Eurobasket and threatened to be from next Olympics and World Cup. 

 

  • Euroleague Basketball position

Despite FIBA’s sanctions, Euroleague Basketball has reaffirmed its will to maintain its powerful competitions, and even more to strengthen its sporting and economic force.

Thus, 16 outstanding clubs decided to join the 2016/2017 Euroleague, based on sporting but also economic criteria: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, CSKA Mosow, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olympiakos Athens …

In addition, Euroleague Basketball signed a tremendous €600 million contract with IMG Media, a worldwide leader for marketing and sports events.

Therefore, Euroleague Basketball does not content itself to resist, it is also setting up a private league comparable to NBA.

 

  • Legal action by Euroleague Basketball

To comfort its legitimacy and face the sanctions of FIBA Europe, Euroleague Basketball took two legal claims before two different courts, both for violating European competition laws:

- An urgent claim before the Regional Court of Munich I (place where FIBA Europe has his registered office), with the support of 11 clubs and the Spanish ACB League, to obtain through an injunction a temporary cease of FIBA Europe sanctions.

- A claim before the European Commission in Brussels.

For Euroleague Basketball and other claimants, the sanctions pronounced by FIBA Europe actually stamps out competition on the relevant, i.e. organization of clubs’ competitions in Europe.

 

 

  • June 2nd judgment: preliminary injunction against FIBA

The Munich Regional Court I issued a preliminary injunction on 2 June 2016 barring FIBA and FIBA Europe from excluding and threatening to exclude European national teams from international competitions, should their clubs decide to participle in competitions organized by his “rival” Euroleague Basketball.

For the German court, FIBA’s sanctions aims at excluding any possible competition in Europe, which consist in an abuse of dominant position, prohibited by Article 102 of European Treaty.

Indeed, taking advantage of Articles 9.1 and 12 of the general statutes of FIBA creates an unchallenging monopole.

“Excluding or threatening to exclude the national teams by reference to the exclusivity clause … constitutes the abuse of a dominant position,” the judge said. “It is ‘asymmetric’ warfare. The national federations with their national teams are prevented from taking part in the Olympic Games or European Championships — which is elementary for them — in order to pressurize them … to forgo taking part in the competition of a competing event … abuses its market power by organizing the club championships Eurocup and Euroleague.”

FIBA Europe immediately appealed to case to have the injunction lifted, setting forth the irregularity of the procedure.

 

  • June 23rd: injunction lifted

On June 23rd, the Regional Court of Munich I reconsidered its initial position and lifted the injunction, for the following reasons:

-The challenged decision was made by an unique judge, without hearing FIBA’s arguments, in violation of the adversarial principle.

-In virtue of FIBA general statutes, any dispute arising from these Statutes, the Internal Regulations, other rules and regulations, and decisions of FIBA shall be definitively settled by a tribunal constituted in accordance with Court of Arbitration for Sport Rules 

(CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland).

- The emergency condition was not characterized, considering the applicants waited too much time before going before the court, almost 2 months after FIBA Europe decision on 20 March 2016.

The lack of emergency was also characterized considering the fact the FIBA Europe itself lifted the sanctions on May 27th, before 2nd June injunction was made.

As a consequence, the injunction pronounced on June 2nd was lifted.

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  • What about next season?

Although FIBA Europe claims victory, Euroleague Basketball argues that the June 23rd decision was only based on procedural concerns, and did not put into question the violation of European competition laws.

 

In any case:

-As of today, sanctions from FIBA Europe are lifted.

-FIBA Europe and Euroleague Basketball both announced the clubs to be participating to their respective competitions.

Therefore, Euroleague Basketball will keep operating, offering the best 2 European competitions for clubs.

Also, before a decision of European Commission, the 2000/2001 spectrum has reappeared. That year 2 independent rival competitions were in place:

-The Euroleague ULEB, won by Kinder Bologna

-The FIBA Suproleague, won by Maccabi Tel Aviv.

One more step in favor of a "NBA Europe" ?