Lebanon may withdraw from FIBA Asia Cup if not backed financially

Sarkis calls for fans to be patient. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s head coach Ghassan Sarkis has threatened to stop Lebanon from participating in future international tournaments if money cannot be secured to aid adequate preparations for the team.

Sarkis made the bold statement to The Daily Star before a news conference held Thursday to explain to the nation the lack of organization within Lebanese basketball.

Sarkis managed to lead the national team to a WABA title last week, earning a ticket to Tokyo for the FIBA Asia Cup in September, overcoming two weeks of shoddy preparations during which his team failed to complete a single practice due to a lack of players.

“I have spoken to the players, before and after the tournament [WABA], and we came to the agreement that if we [are not provided the bare minimum] needed to begin respectable preparations, we won’t go to Tokyo [for the FIBA Asia Cup],” Sarkis said.

“Since I was given the coaching job last summer, we have been working with really bad conditions. The players used to train with the temperature inside the court at almost 40 degrees.

“Yet we accepted the sacrifice for the sake of Lebanon, because we are all here for a purpose and it’s our country. But at the end of the day we can’t stay like that forever, and [if we fail] they will blame the coaching staff or the players,” Sarkis said.

“We are not asking for money for ourselves. We went to Amman last week with the [finances] not even guaranteed, so money is our last interest. I am addressing every single official in this country, from President Michel Sleiman to any regular citizen – this is a call to all of you,” he said.

Sarkis insisted that the national team would be on track to qualify for the World Championship for the fourth successive time next year, but only if he was given the chance to prepare the team in the right conditions.

“We proved last week [by winning the WABA tournament] that we are technically improving, and our decision to pump new blood into the squad has begun to pay off.

“I expressed last year my insights about the decline in the standards of our neighbors Iran and Jordan. While their golden generations are almost coming to an end, we have [improved] and our squad now mostly consists of under-25 players,” he said.

“But that wouldn’t be enough if those guys were not playing at the very highest levels during the preparation phase, especially against teams from the East Asia region. That’s why our participation at the two upcoming events [Jones Cup and FIBA Asia Cup] is important. They will be valuable to our players [in terms of] gaining experience, and providing [opportunities to come into] contact with different styles of play,” he added.

However, Sarkis was open to few changes in the squad, the exception being the players who missed the last tournament because of injuries. He was adamant that the players who did not respond to his initial call would not be considered.

“The current players will stay with us because they proved successful and enthusiastic. We are only due to make a few additions, especially for some of the players who were injured like Elie Rustom,” he said.

The Cedars will enter the FIBA Asia Cup as defending champions after winning the last edition in Beirut in 2010, but Sarkis has different goals this time as he heads into the tournament with a completely different lineup and without more experienced players such as Lebanon’s legendary Fadi al-Khatib, Jean Abdel Nour and Ali Mahmoud.

“Last year [during Wuhan 2011], we received great acclaim from the highest technical officials in Asia. They praised our move to change the complexion of the national team from one generation to another. But this process needs time, patience and money for our preparations.

“I believe that the development in the level of our league is benefitting the national team. The players are now stronger physically, more versatile technically and most importantly their confidence is improving. I am very happy with the performance of the new players, especially Rodrigue Akl, who was considered before as the third point guard in Lebanon, while now he’s the first.

“The same goes for players such as Elie Stephan, Nadim Souaid, Hussein al-Khatib and Charles Tabet. They are all examples of a strong new generation. It’s now all up to the federation to support us financially so we can proceed with our program,” Sarkis said.

In his final words, Sarkis reaffirmed his promise to all Lebanese fans that the side would qualify for the 2014 World Championship in Spain, but urged the Sports and Youth Ministry and the basketball federation “to secure the money right away so we can begin with the preparations.”





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