Basketball looks for NBA rebound in cricket-mad India

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This photo taken on September 13, 2019 shows trainee basketball players stretching during a practice session at the National Basketball Association (NBA) Academy India at Jaypee Sports City in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh state.(AFP / Prakash Singh)
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This photo taken on September 13, 2019 shows Scott Flemming (C), technical director and chief coach of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Academy India, watching trainee basketball players during a practice session at Jaypee Sports City in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh state. (AFP / Prakash Singh)
Updated 03 October 2019

Basketball looks for NBA rebound in cricket-mad India

  • NBA stars will play pre-season games in Mumbai this weekend in a bid to improve basketball’s popularity in South Asia

NEW DELHI: The NBA sets foot in India for the first time this week as basketball struggles in a country where cricketers are treated like deities and the ancient sport of kabaddi is a hot television property.
Stars from the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers will play pre-season games in Mumbai on Friday and Saturday to boost a desperate campaign to improve the sport’s popularity in South Asia.
So far the efforts have gained little traction, even though US President Donald Trump talked up the event at a rally with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Texas last week.
“Very soon India will have access to another world-class American product — NBA basketball. Wow!” Trump told the packed stadium.
A professional league called the United Basketball Alliance (UBA) started in 2015, but ended abruptly two years later.
The NBA set up an academy in New Delhi for 21 players in 2017, one of seven across the globe. It now has 23 students as part of the expansion that brings the Kings and the Pacers to India.
They will also be playing in China, where the sports has a huge following, and Japan.

Registered players
But in India which has a population of 1.3 billion, there are just 4,000 players registered for official tournaments. That is three times more than a decade ago, according to the national federation
No Indian player has ever taken part in an NBA game and former players and sports experts believe it could be a long time before any breakthrough is made.
Cricket and kabaddi — a rough and tumble contact sport like tag — built their television riches from years of grassroots work while basketball is regarded as an “elitist” sport trying to impose itself with star appeal, according to marketing and branding specialist Harish Bijoor.
“Basketball remains niche,” he said. “If there are 60 students in a class there are possibly two who play basketball,” he said.
“The reinvention of basketball from the bottom up is important, not top-down.
“You cannot have an elitist tag to basketball. You should have a popular tag.”
Ashok Sharma, a former commissioner for world governing body FIBA, praised the NBA for bringing their stars to help the sport’s profile in India.
But he said the international and Indian federations had to work together “to nurture talent” and create stars of their own.
“Something is amiss and it’s the players who are suffering. Basketball making a mark as a popular sport in India is a long way off,” said Sharma.
A former Indian national player told AFP, on condition of anonymity: “Sadly non-sports guys are running the sport in India. They are very unprofessional and have only made basketball rot.”
Satnam Singh was India’s first player to be drafted into the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks picked him in 2015. But he was traded without playing and is now in Canada.

Cricket mania
NBA academy technical director Scott Flemming believes the sport is slowly finding space to grow in India.
“It is cricket mania here in India but I feel sports like basketball are coming up,” the former Indian team coach told AFP.
“Since I came in 2012 as a national coach I have really seen basketball grow.”
Flemming said his academy is scouting for a potential NBA star but Indian players need to “dream bigger.”
“Rather than just getting a job in their local region we are getting them to a college in the US, which means they not only have to be great players but really good students too.”
A player in the NBA academy, Harshwardhan Tomar, standing 2.03m tall, said the sport is shunned by media and fans.
“If they see a basketball player, they say oh we are not interested in talking to him,” said the 18-year-old, who played cricket before switching to basketball.
“I have played for the national team five or six times and nobody knows me. For cricket, one time in the national team and you are like a star. And it disappoints me.”

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

Updated 49 min 49 sec ago

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

  • Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded Qatar's bid

LONDON: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has become the focus of fresh FIFA corruption allegations after the release of a new US Department of Justice indictment which says bribes were paid to football officials to secure their votes for hosting rights.

Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations down in print.

According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial decision of world football’s governing body.

FIFA and the Qatar World Cup organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids have always denied paying bribes.

Although FIFA has reacted to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the USallegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the tournament, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.

The indictment states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive — Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator — took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

“Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz and co-conspirator #1 were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favor of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup,” reads the indictment.

Teixeira, the former son-in-law of long-time FIFA boss Joao Havelange and ex-head of the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF), was not immediately reachable for comment.

The DOJ also alleges that then FIFA vice president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.

Warner has been accused of a number of crimes in the long-running USprobe and is fighting extradition from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, who was not immediately reachable for comment, has always denied any wrongdoing.

Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organizing committee for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, told the Interfax news agency: “This is only the opinion of lawyers. We have repeatedly said that our bid was transparent.

“At the time we answered all questions, including from the investigation branch of FIFA and from the media, we handed over all needed documents. We have nothing to add to this and we will not respond to attempts to cast a shadow on our bid.”

Asked if the Kremlin was aware of the US indictment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We read the media reports. We don’t understand what they refer to.

“Russia received the right to host the World Cup completely legally. It is in no way linked to any bribes. We reject this. And Russia hosted the best soccer World Cup in history, which we are proud of.”

The Qatar World Cup organizers have been fending off allegations of corruption ever since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the 2022 tournament.

In 2014, FIFA, then under the control of former President Sepp Blatter, cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup after an investigation.

Blatter was banned from football by FIFA along with scores of other officials following internal ethics investigations, promoted by the arrests of seven FIFA officials on UScorruption charges in Zurich in May 2015.