BEIRUT: The future of the Lebanese Basketball Federation was hanging in the balance Thursday after one of the messiest days Lebanese basketball has suffered in 15 years.
Sports Minister Faisal Karami will meet Friday with the president and vice president of Riyadi – Hisham Jaroudi and Jawdat Chaker, respectively – to decide whether to dissolve the Lebanese Basketball Federation over allegations of corruption in Riyadi’s Final Four series with Anibal Zahle.
A source told The Daily Star that Mouttahed Tripoli president Mohammad Safadi and five FLBB board members who resigned over the incident will also be in attendance. Mouttahed Tripoli are believed to want to attend because the club felt that the FLBB intentionally ensured that it wouldn’t qualify for the Final Four.
Chaker said Thursday that “the Federation no longer exists in the eyes of Riyadi” and that the team would forfeit their role in the league. Riyadi also vowed to not release any of their players to the national team and said neither the men’s nor women’s teams would take part in the Lebanese Basketball League.
Thursday saw fans demonstrate for hours at Riyadi’s arena in Manara after the Lebanese Basketball Federation banned supporters from seeing Game 5 – which was originally scheduled for Thursday – and prohibited star power forward Ismael Ahmad from playing, suspending him for arguing with a federation official in Wednesday’s Game 4.
Thanks to the two decisions, Riyadi initially chose to forfeit the game and hand the victory to Anibal Zahle, but officials and politicians intervened, with Sports Minister Faisal Karami threatening to freeze the federation unless they lift the two bans.
Initially news came that the federation had been frozen, meaning there would be no championship and no 2012 winner – although Riyadi would have been given the title as current holders. Then, the federation met at 7 p.m. Thursday and decided to move Game 5 to Friday with both Ahmad and the fans still banned.
Five federation members – Chaker, Nehder Bassma, Hadi Ghemraoui, Yasser al-Hajj and Nizar Rawass – resigned over the controversy.
Should the championship be canceled, it would be the first time the tournament was derailed since 1997.
Riyadi plan to boycott Friday’s game as they intend to stand by Ahmad, whose remarks to an official were made after Anibal Zahle fans pelted him with bottles.
Anibal Zahle were fined LL5 million for the behavior of their fans.
Why Riyadi’s fans were banned from seeing the potential game is not yet known.
The club have been crying foul all year, saying that the Federation were unfairly trying to affect their performance by loading their schedule, banning their supporters and manipulating referees’ decisions.
Riyadi assistant coach Mazen Tabbara insisted that any manipulation from the federation was due to their want for another title winner after the Manara side had won the last seven league titles.
“The federation is trying to decide the championship not on the floor, instead they [want another team to win by] using tricks, bad tricks.
“They don’t need to do this; they are destroying the championship. The whole season they have been doing everything to harm Riyadi by giving us a heavy schedule when we were in Asia, then they took action against our fans without any logic.
“They are just trying to protect two teams just so they can get two teams in the final. They are pushing us to withdraw,” said Tabbara. “This is it [they are doing it because we have won seven straight titles].
“Until last year’s championships we didn’t have any issues, no referee issues or anything and the best was winning on the court, they don’t want this decision to be taken on the floor.
“We have lost, we don’t mind losing when it is a fair situation but obviously they don’t want us to win in a fair way, or lose in a fair way. Sport is about winning and losing, but in a fair way.”
Whether the federation have purposely tried to affect the result – the biggest crime a federation can commit – can only be speculated on, even though it is highly likely given the organization’s track record. Assuming the FLBB have purposely tampered with results, there are a number of possible reasons for doing it, according to Riyadi member Faissal Kalaawi.
One of the most vocal reasons is that Anibal Zahle’s main donator, Wadil Absi, is planning to go into politics and wants to manufacture a league victory for Anibal to help raise political capital. Another is simply that the federation wants any team apart from Riyadi to win the title. And the final reason is believed to be that the federation is biased against Riyadi on religious grounds.
Nobody from the federation or Anibal Zahle were available for comment.