Basketball Ireland quietly announced on Friday via their Facebook page that “A new Basketball Ireland bye-law passed by its Council has clarified the organisation’s position on unregistered activity.” It was accompanied by a link to the Basketball Ireland website which introduced the new bye-law. You can read the bye-law in full below:
ARTICLE 9M – UNREGISTERED ACTIVITY
“Clubs, Teams, Schools, Coaches, Referees, Table Officials, Commissioners or any Individuals registered with Basketball Ireland found to be participating in any basketball activity organised by or under the control of a league or entity which is not registered with Basketball Ireland in the current calendar year or season shall be automatically suspended from all activities under the control of Basketball Ireland including, but not limited to, Leagues, Events, International Teams, Seminars and Courses for the remainder of the current year and/or season.
Furthermore, the above stipulation shall apply to clubs registering either their juvenile or senior team with Basketball Ireland and also allowing either or any of their juvenile or senior teams to participate in an unregistered league.
Clubs, Teams, Schools, Coaches, Referees, Table Officials, Commissioners or any Individuals registered with Basketball Ireland found to be in breach of the above shall forfeit registrations fees paid in the current year and/or season.
Basketball Ireland reserves the right to decide on any action to be taken if any of the above listed members of Basketball Ireland are found to be in breach of the above rule and/or if any team or teams are, or are not effective members of a club playing under a different name.”
So why have these rules been introduced and what do they mean? According to Basketball Ireland “The new rule means that bodies or members who take part in basketball activity beyond the governance of Basketball Ireland are subject to automatic suspension and loss of any registration fees paid.” It is my assumption that this bye-law has been brought in as a direct response to the number of “unsanctioned” leagues that have sprung up in recent years. We had the Europeans Friendly Basketball League (EFBL) featuring a host of internationally flavoured teams and of course the Dublin Thunder, after their run-in with Basketball Ireland, and the Superleague committee. More recently there is the Shannon Side Basketball League. A host of clubs in the midlands, who were dissatisfied with the amount of fees being paid to Basketball Ireland, decided to go it alone and set up women’s and men’s leagues. And, at one point over 20 teams were competing in the Shannon Side League. You can argue the rights and wrongs of whether or not Basketball Ireland is right to try and clamp down on this sort of thing happening but concerns also arise over the wording of the rule and how effective it will be.
For example, lets take the already established and wildly successful Courtside Collective Summer League. TCC is not officially registered to Basketball Ireland in any way. (Although we look to work with them at every opportunity.) So, at first glance the TCC summer-league is clearly “basketball activity organised by or under the control of a league or entity which is not registered with Basketball Ireland”. Does that mean every single TCC summer-league player and referee would be banned from all Basketball Ireland activities for the full season? According to the bye-law, yes! However if you take a look at the introductory text on the Basketball Ireland website you will find a very curious line; “Independently run business enterprises are not targeted.”
There is nothing in the rule which mentions anything about an ‘Independently run business enterprise’, which leads you to assume that this bye-law is one which will simply be enforced at Basketball Ireland’s discretion on a case-by-case basis. What is the definition of an independently run business enterprise? If the Shannon Side League charge teams and players to enter and register as a business will that then exempt them from this new bye-law? What if BasketballDirect.com decides it wants to run its own basketball league? I would consider Basketball Direct as an independently run business enterprise. So would that league be exempt? What if Basketball Direct hosts an annual summer tournament or what about the already well established off-season tournaments held all around the country?
There is also concerns about the proportionality of this bye-law. Is the punishment that players are “automatically suspended from all activities under the control of Basketball Ireland including, but not limited to, Leagues, Events, International Teams, Seminars and Courses for the remainder of the current year and/or season.” proportionate to the ‘crime’ of participating in unsanctioned basketball activity? It appears as if the onus is on the players, referees and volunteers, to ensure every single basketball activity they participate in is sanctioned by Basketball Ireland or fall under the exemption of the ‘independent business’ clause. Given the ambiguity raised in the previous paragraph around the exemption to this bye-law, is it fair to hold players accountable for determining what is an acceptable activity to participate in and what is unacceptable?
Bear in mind, we are not talking about professional players. We are talking about amateurs and children who face a year of expulsion from all basketball activity including the honour of representing their country. Imagine the scenario of a 17-year old player based somewhere in the midlands with no club team within 20 miles. If he plays for his local Shannon Side League team he will not be allowed to play for his school? Even more incredible, he would be banned from playing for an Irish u18 international team where, even if he made the cut, he would still have to self-finance his participation to the tune of somewhere in the region of €2500. This is not a far fetched hypothetical situation; youth Irish internationals have played in the Shannon Side league in recent years alongside former national cup finalists Sligo All-Stars and Longford Falcons.
On the Basketball Ireland release, secretary general Bernard O’Byrne is quoted as saying “We have general agreement within the sport that this action is long overdue.” I am not sure as to what constitutes ‘general agreement’ but I am involved in club, school and colleges basketball in Ireland on a number of levels; as a player, a coach, an official and as a club and league administrator (never mind my involvement in the sport as an occasional blogger and full time retailer) and I have not even heard this issue mentioned, on any level, in the past couple of years. It’s entirely possible that these discussions are taking place outside of the basketball circles that I am involved in but this bye-law seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise.
I would suggest this bye-law needs to be clarified as current reading does not make good law. Perhaps a better approach would be to understand that there is a reason these leagues exist outside of Basketball Ireland’s control. Small local league clubs feel like BI fees are too high and they do not see the benefits that these fees bring. Therefore, setting up a local league appears to be a cost effective and sensible solution. Instead of trying to police this situation with strict punishments and bye-laws, perhaps a better solution would be to open a dialogue with these clubs and try to explain the benefits membership of BI brings. Then perhaps, even more importantly, listen to what the clubs have to say and see if there are alternative ways in which BI can support the grass-roots level of the sport or have a possible restructure of the fee system.