Lebanese basketball returns

The national team is set to take the court this week

After nearly a year suspension, Lebanon's national team can now take part to all FIBA organized competitions
After nearly a year suspension, Lebanon's national team can now take part to all FIBA organized competitions

Update: Since we published the article online, Lebanon announced its withdrawal from this year’s WABA Championship because it would interfere with the final playoff games which are currently taking place. 

Nearly a year since its suspension due to political interference in Lebanon’s most popular game, the Lebanese Basketball Federation (LBF) was reinstated as a member of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in early May. As a result, Lebanon’s national team is set to re-enter the arena at the West Asian Basketball Championship in Jordan on May 23.

“We acknowledge with thanks the latest copy of your statutes as approved by the general assembly … [and] we are pleased to inform you that FIBA is now in a position to lift the suspension of the LBF,” FIBA’s Secretary General Patrice Baumann wrote in a fax to LBF President Walid Nasser on May 7. “Your federation is now therefore reinstated with full rights and your teams and officials may take part in all FIBA competitions and activities.”

Changes to the LBF statutes are threefold. First, the election of the federation’s five-member executive committee was altered. Lebanon’s ten professional clubs used to appoint three of its members. Now, each club can only put forward one name, after which the clubs must agree on a final list of seven candidates, from which the LBF Board of Directors will choose three. The board, which is chosen by representatives of both professional and amateur clubs in Lebanon will also appoint the two remaining posts, including the secretary general.

Staying out of court

Secondly, an appeal commission is to be established. FIBA approved the LBF’s proposal to install an independent body made up of five members with professional legal backgrounds. “Its decisions are irrevocable and cannot be appealed in a civil lawsuit,” said Jihad Salameh, secretary general of Mont La Salle sports club. “An appeal can only be filed with FIBA and ultimately at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.”

Until now, Lebanon’s clubs had no other way to appeal an LBF decision than by going to court. That is what happened last year in the tragicomedy between Amchit and Champville, which ultimately led to the LBF’s suspension.

In short, when Amchit failed to show up for a decisive home game against Champville on May 7, 2013, the LBF handed the team a 20–0 loss. While Champville went on to play the league’s semifinals against Sporting, Amchit sued the LBF. The judge in charge decided to temporarily freeze all matches.

FIBA warned that such a procedure undermined the LBF’s authority and demanded that the clubs sign a memorandum of understanding to establish an appeal commission. When a handful of clubs refused to do so, FIBA finally suspended the LBF on July 18, 2013.

Due to the ban, the Lebanon’s men national basketball team was not allowed to participate in the Asian Championship last summer and failed to qualify for the World Championship for a fourth consecutive time. The same happened to the women’s national team in Bangkok in October, while Sporting and Champville were barred from competing in the West Asian Clubs Championship.

Furthermore, due to the politically motivated internal bickering, last season ended without a champion, and this season started way later than scheduled. While Amchit is a club close to Lebanon’s President Michel Sleiman, Champville is sponsored by four businessmen with close ties to presidential hopeful Michel Aoun.

“Thirdly, FIBA insisted that the LBF changes the rules and regulations regarding youth contracts,” said Salameh, even though this did not trigger the initial ban. “Until now, youth players could be under contract until the age of 20. That has been reduced to the age of 18.”

Asked why it took so long to change the statutes, Salameh laughed: “This is Lebanon.”

The fact of the matter is that for the longest possible time, Lebanon’s clubs tried to hold on to as much power as possible. They attempted to create an independent committee to regulate the league, while electing a majority of its members. Following a first warning in January, FIBA wrote in March: “One does not see in these draft statutes a real wish from the federation to depart from the errors committed in the past.”

Only then did Lebanon’s professional clubs and the LBF manage to agree on the above-mentioned statutes, a definitive victory for the LBF. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is a truly joyous moment for millions of fans of Lebanese basketball,” said Nasser on May 7.Let us for now celebrate our return to where we really belong.”

Peter Speetjens

Peter Speetjens is a Dutch journalist & analyst based in Beirut since 1996.

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