Patrick Baumann is the FIBA Secretary General (Photo: FIBA)
In an exclusive interview, FIBA Secretary General speaks about the new discipline with three-player teams and roots for an “Indian Yao Ming”
03 May, 2012 - Secretary General of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), Patrick Baumann, has held nearly all positions inside and outside a court. He has been a Basketball player and a referee in Italy; a supervisor and a referee trainer in Switzerland, his home country; he has completed a Basketball coaching course, coached a youth team, organised tournaments and ran youth Basketball clinics before being offered a position at the FIBA headquarters in Germany in April 1994.
He worked with legendary Borislav Stankovic, the man who spearheaded the process for inclusion of the NBA players, the professional North-American Basketball league, in the Olympic Games since Barcelona 1992. In January 2003, he succeeded Stankovic as secretary general of the world government body for Basketball.
At the headquarters of the Rio 2016™ Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the draw for the London 2012 women’s and men’s Basketball, Baumann looked carefully at the scenario of one of the most popular sports in the world. He talked about FIBA plans and projects, spoke about the expansion of Basketball to less developed regions in the world/the least developed regions in the world and shared a secret wish: for India to enjoy the same surge in Basketball’s popularity as that experienced by China with Yao Ming the phenomenon.
Read the interview:
What do you expect for London 2012? What can the world expect after Beijing 2008’s magnificence?
You can’t compare it to Beijing. Not everyone knows Beijing, or China well, or what it could show the world, so it was a new atmosphere. Beijing is not better than London, it’s just different. Now, when you get to London, an amazing city, you will be watching Olympic Games in a city that has hosted the Games before [Note: London hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948]. The Games spirit will be there. I can’t wait to see it, it’ll be exciting.
After almost three years, what are your views of the selection of Rio as host city of the 2016 Games? What does it mean to sport in general?
That’s an excellent opportunity for the worldwide promotion of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. Rio is famous for its environment all over the globe, that’s amazing. The city alone is very exciting. For South America, investment in sport can offer benefits for decades. We are all eagerly anticipating it. The choice was right and it will be a great opportunity for the region as a whole, for all athletes who have been working hard for years. We will be watching the world rankings of athletes go up in this side of the world. That can only bring benefits
What about basketball specifically? What are FIBA’s next plans for South America?
Basketball is played all over the world. There are countries with very strong Basketball programmes in South America. Some cannot easily reach Argentina or Brazil’s levels, but Venezuela, for instance, will be hosting the World Men’s Pre-Olympic Tournament and its performance tends to be good. Chile hosted FIBA Under-19 World Championship for Women and does a good job with the girls. When the Games take place here, there will be a lot of excitement in these countries for them to qualify and participate. We have a league of clubs in America which is doing very well. Now it’s on TV for the whole region. You can tell that the sport is getting better and better, not only in Argentina or Brazil.
Do you think the expansion of the Asian Market to several areas is affecting basketball? What are your views of the current scenario in Asia?
Basketball is extremely popular in Asia, particularly in the east, in China, or in the southeast, where there are very good, well-structured leagues in several countries. Also, there are strong countries, such as Iran, which has been working hard over the years. Actually the problem in Asia is athletes’ height, but even so, the Chinese, Korean and others are able to form excellent teams. Their economic situation is similar to that of Brazil. The future is where investments are. If money is appropriately investment and the structure is taken care of professional, such as in Europe or North-America, then China, Korea and Iran will be able to show us more and play better. That is the logic of the economy and the ambitions of those countries.
The Yao Ming phenomenon was a key factor for the increased popularity of the Basketball in China. How important are sports role models like this?
Yao Ming is extremely powerful as he’s become famous and is now gaining political clout. In Shanghai, he still owns a team. He is a TV sports commentator, people enjoy listening to him. And now there is Jeremy Lin! [Note: An NBA’s New York Knicks Asian-American player] Lin is a real mania! So there will always be room for a new player or another, great young talents who will become world stars. We hope in ten-years time India can have its Yao Ming! That would leverage Basketball, which is developing in this subcontinent, but not as much as in other centres.
Several sports are adjusting to youth-friendly formats. Basketball, for example, has been tested in the half-court model with three players per team at the Youth Olympic Games. What are your views on this?
We are going to continue developing the 3x3, which will also be at Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games. We are developing that discipline around the globe. For the first time this summer we will have a five stage world Tour, to be held in Miami, US. We will have two world championships, one in Greece, for seniors, and another in Spain, for juniors. We will be launching an application for Iphone and Android, for people to play and join the 3x3 community. There will be a ranking like the one we use in chess and tennis. Our idea is to increase the number of Basketball friends and players in many ways in the next four, five years. Obviously, we would like to see the 3x3 at Rio 2016™ or in 2020. We are working hard to submit the documentation in time for the 2016 Games.
FIBA has marked a twenty-year relationship with NBA. What are your views on the impacts of the inclusion of NBA players in the Olympic Games 20 years ago?
First of all, FIBA and NBA have a good relationship. Second, there is a smooth relationship between Basketball in general and the activities the NBA develops around the world. All their efforts help to develop Basketball all over the globe. It has been twenty years since Barcelona 1992 and London 2012. It’s amazing, the sport has taken the world by storm, certainly much to the merit of the efforts endeavoured by NBA around the world. Now we are trying to shape the next 20 years. We’ve been having very stimulating debates with NBA. There are hurdles to overcome so there is a lot we can do together. There is a lot of room for improvement in the World Basketball Championship, for example. FIBA and NBA have values in common. There is a lot of room for growth.
In ten years from now, what are your views on FIBA and world Basketball? What is your dream?
I would love to see for instance China and the US at an Olympic Games final, or Brazil playing against an African team. That would be a dream come true. If China, South America and Africa move up one rung on the ladder and are able to challenge the biggest Basketball nations, that will mean an extraordinary achievement to the sport.
At 44, you are FIBA Secretary General and a member of the International Olympic Committee. On a personal level, what do you still hope to see in the Olympic Movement?
It’s an honour and a joy to take part in this environment, I still feel as excited about it as a child. Meeting people, travelling around the world and being around Basketball lovers is fantastic. Furthermore, I can just grab the phone and ring people like Carlos Nuzman, who brought the Games to Brazil. This experience is all very enriching to me, who come from Switzerland, where Basketball is not very developed yet. But to be honest, what really thrills me is to go to a stadium, regardless of the sport. Simply to feel the emotion of the athlete when a competitor unexpectedly wins the 100 metre sprint, for example. That’s the sort of thing that still gives me good bumps, and that’s what makes it all so exciting. And then you’ve got everyone around you. You’re not everyone’s friend but we are all friends of sport and passionate about sport, and that’s what makes this environment so amazing. I feel lucky I’m involved in this.