heinnews’s David Hein was at the 2009 EuroBasket Women and caught up with FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann. In the first part of a two-part interview, they discussed Latvia hosting the women’s European championship; the 2010 FIBA World Championship Men in Turkey; Germany hosting the 2010 U17 World Championship Men; and the job German federation president Ingo Weiss has done since taking over in 2006.
heinnews: You were in Leipaja for the first round of the 2009 EuroBasket Women. What do you think so far of the tournament?
Baumann: It’s been excellent. Some games have been extremely exciting so that’s good. There is a high level for most of the countries which is very healthy for the game. I think more impressive is the organisation of this event when you look at everything happening to this country outside of basketball. They have done great putting together this extraordinary championship under very extraordinary circumstances.
heinnews: Talk a little bit about the financial stress that this country is dealing with right now?
Baumann: Right now they are in trouble. The government of this country is sitting there every week trying to figure out how to save the budget of the country. And they are still providing financial subsidies to the organisers so that they can run the event because unfortunately much of the sponsorship is gone. And the organisation has been highly professional in working with very limited resources and providing excellent organisation. Under these particular circumstances, knowing how women’s sports are not supported at all, this has been really good.
heinnews: I want to bounce around to a whole array of topics.
Baumann: Go ahead and bounce around as much as you want.
heinnews: With the current financial situation worldwide in mind, what are your thoughts looking forward to the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey? How are things running there?
Baumann: Turkey has the peculiar chance of being a little isolated from the international environment – not only the banking system. There are some links of course. But it’s probably in a better situation than many countries in Europe right now.
We are not too much concerned on that side. On the contrary. There is a strong willingness to invest. There is a strong willingness to demonstrate that they can host a World Championship of a sport like ours. Obviously they have other ambitions behind that, whether it’s to demonstrate that they belong to the rest of the world which has had top notch sports events, whether they can come back as a host, a candidate for the Olympic Games. A lot is driven by the fact that they want to show that they can manage it because they have many, many more important plans coming up behind it.
That is two factors. The third is that we met several times with the government, the prime minister, the minister of sports – both the old one and the new one, and the collective commitment is strong. In the United States it would be a matter of national security, in Turkey it would a matter of national pride. So, I think that’s going to give them the necessary strength to the federation to do a good job.
heinnews: Germany and Hamburg were just awarded the U17 World Championship For Men. Germany has not hosted many world or European competitions in recent memory. What was FIBA’s opinion of Germany going for an event such as this?
Baumann: Germany hosted the 1998 World Championship Women and the 1993 European Championship Men, which they won. They had a European youth event since then from time to time. But certainly not the World Championship for youth. And this is first time this event will be played.
It happens to be that the president of the German federation is the president of our youth commission. That has probably triggered in him the idea: “I should bid for this.” He was bidding against China, which is not something very simple. And I think China was more concentrating on a senior World Championship, which is why it kind of left the door open for Germany to win it.
For me, it seems that basketball is extremely strong in the Mediterranean countries. Looking at the top five markets in Europe and we are not strong in two of those five – UK and Germany, despite the fact that basketball exists. At the youth level it’s probably one of the most popular sports, including the UK, where you would think it’s football. Actually in both countries you would think it’s football. So in all the statistics it says that for kids between 12 and 16 years or also between 15 and 18 years that basketball is the most popular sport. We just have the difficulty of turning this into a successful story for a national team.
For us to go to Germany is an opportunity to on one hand provide Germany with the ability to create a new generation of talent for the next couple of years. Dirk Nowitzki has been playing every single year, in and out. And some time it will come that he will deservedly have to say, man I have to pass. I’m tired. Behind that there needs to be another push. And with more than 80 million inhabitants, I mean look at Latvia. With a country of 2 million inhabitants they have a team at the European Championships. So, that’s a good reason for us to be in Germany next year with the Under-17 – to help them.
heinnews: What kind of difference do you sense within the German DBB federation since Ingo Weiss has been president?
Baumann: I don’t want to compare presidents or different managing styles. I think Roland Geggus came in right after this swing of the European Championship and then having the 1998 World Championship, which was very well organised. Obviously now there is a change in generations, and Ingo has a good group of people around him. And they are trying to do the best they can. It’s well managed.
It’s extremely interesting. The German basketball is quite well decentralised. It’s well organised at the regional level. It has a league which is not quite where it could be. I think we still have issues with infrastructures, perhaps with the O2 World venue in Berlin. Or the venue in Cologne. But you need three or four more big venues. You have the one in Hamburg now of course. And there should be one in Munich as well. And if you have them in the Bundesliga and they are really pushing well, I think it will naturally grow.
At the end of the day, the German national team is amazingly lucky to have a personality like Dirk Nowitzki, who is the best possible ambassador that you can dream of. He has the status of being a star in Germany which is independent of the sport. It’s just Dirk Nowitzki. He can’t walk around and not have to stop and talk to people. And he does. And if they can capitalise on that – and that’s probably the biggest challenge Ingo Weiss is facing. How can they capitalise on that and make the next step. And we need that too. We need Germany to be up there, pushing Spain and the other countries.