August 15, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Basketball Federation of India responds to UBA League ban

Last week, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), who are the governing body of the sport in India, dropped a bombshell when they named one hundred and twenty-two players, coaches, and officials who would be banned from participating in all Indian basketball activities. The individuals banned all participated in season 3 of the UBA Basketball League, a short, independent competition, which took place in Pune last month. The BFI deemed this league an 'unauthorized competition' and their circular listed several individuals who would now not be permitted in any All India tournaments, International and National competitions within India and abroad.

The reaction to this announcement in Indian basketball circles was swift and savage. Players and fans criticised the BFI for hampering the growth of the game in India. A petition was created to urge BFI to stop the ban on UBA participants and signed by hundreds of supporters in a few days.

To tell their side of the story, I was able to connect with the BFI's Secretary-General Chander Mukhi Sharma - who had signed off the controversial circular last week - and ask him several questions via email about the reasoning behind his ban, the relationship between the BFI and the UBA, the future of the banned individuals, and the future of Indian basketball. Here is my exclusive Q-and-A with Sharma as he responds to some of the most pressing concerns of the Indian basketball family.

Hoopistani: Why did the BFI decide to revoke permission from all the players, coaches, and officials who played in the 'unrecognised competition', the UBA League?

Chander Mukhi Sharma: The BFI never revoked any permission, because we did not give permission to any participants. In a circular dated 26th June 2016 sent to all our affiliated units, we made it clear that players, coaches and officials should not participate in any unauthorised league. As the governing body of basketball in India, it is our responsibility to ensure the long-term health of the game in India.

Hoopistani: Why has the BFI not given recognition or affiliation to the UBA League even though it features several top players and coaches of India?

Sharma: The UBA never asked us for any recognition or affiliation.

Hoopistani: Does the UBA League hamper or harm BFI's vision of Indian Basketball in any way?

Sharma: The BFI does not recognise the UBA, and considers it a non-entity. We do not know the purpose and motive of the UBA, who their promoters are, and to my knowledge, they are not sports professionals. They failed at creating a professional American Football League (EFLI) in India and they came here only for their commercial venture without following any norms/procedures. An ad-hoc league with one week or less preparation of teams/players created solely with the purpose of generating television revenue will end up harming the game in the long run.

Now some of the players has made a complaint to the BFI regarding how non-transparent the UBA is, particularly they entered into the contract with the players and not given them the any copy of the contract for their record.

Hoopistani: Is the ban permanent? What do the players or officials have to do to reverse this ruling for themselves?

Sharma: The ban is not permanent. Most of the players have approached us and informed us that they went on mistake or not having the knowledge of the entire situation. Moreover, some of them feel cheated we they didn’t get the copy of their contract. Some of the players/participants had approached us through their respective state associations for revoking the ban. We will take a decision on a case-by-case evaluation of each of the players/participant.

Hoopistani: What about Indian players who play in professional leagues abroad, like Amjyot and Amrit Pal in Japan or Satnam in the USA - will they face a similar ban to those who choose to play basketball professionally in India?

Sharma: No, in their cases the players and respective promoters/teams have taken prior approval from us by submitting formal requests as well as copies of their contracts.

Hoopistani: Will the BFI refuse to recognise independent competitions like the UBA League or others in the future, or is there any chance of an agreement between the BFI and the UBA?

Sharma: If organisations follow the proper procedures we will not refuse any competitions. Regular private tournaments are held regularly throughout India and are approved via the proper channels. For example, All-India Tournaments are held by Arise Steel, Vijaya Bank, and other organizations. Most recently, PSG Club in Coimbatore held an All-India Competition who’s approval was sought through the proper channel and approved.

Hoopistani: There are several players who were caught in the political tug-of-war following the breakup of the BFI's executive committee. What should their course of action be if they want to continue making a living through basketball with the UBA but still have hopes to play in official BFI events domestically and internationally?

Sharma: There is no break up of the BFI’s Executive Committee. The BFI will not allow any player, coach or technical official who participates in any un-recognized or un-authorized competition/event, to participate in any BFI Event.

Hoopistani: Does the BFI have support from the IOA and the Indian government? If not, what are the challenges that the federation is facing as it works independently to help basketball in India?

Sharma: The BFI is an autonomous body, who runs its operations without the interference by the IOA or the Government of India. This is the same situation for all National Federations.

Over the past year and a half, the following milestones have been reached by the BFI:

- Conducted a FIBA Level 3 Certification for the first time ever, under the guidance of FIBA Instructor Nelson Isley, from the USA.
- Hundreds of FIBA Certified Grassroot basketball trainers across the country.
- Launched the Indian School Basketball League in 16 states
- Reached the Quarterfinals for both Senior Men and U-18 Men in their respective FIBA Asia Championships (first time for both in 12 years).
- Invited to numerous International Events, namely Dubai International Invitational, William Jones Cup, and Super Kung Shueng Cup.
- Senior Men won its first ever William Jones Cup game.
- In two consecutive years i.e. 2015 and 2016, FIBA has provided the BFI with the opportunity to conduct the Senior Men’s South Asian Basketball Association Championships / Qualifying Rounds in India.

Hoopistani: Will the BFI launch its own professional basketball league? If so, when, and what will be the league's specifics?

Sharma: Yes, we will be starting our own professional basketball league. Once the Indian School Basketball League is completed, we will announce the details at the appropriate time.

Hoopistani: What more can we expect from the BFI for the future of basketball in India?

Sharma: The BFI is committed and dedicated to improving the development of the game across the country. Major objectives include:

1. Create a transparent working for the basketball fraternity
2. Continue Coaching Education Programs under the guidance of FIBA Instructor Nelson Isley (USA), including identifying and training Level 3 coaches across the country.
3. Create a unified coaching structure and system
4. Continue to expand and develop the Indian School Basketball League to become the feeder system to National Teams and eventual Professional League
5. Improve the basketball infrastructure across the country
6. Already started the Talent Hunts across the country for all levels.