— Published 24 August 2023

Saud Ali Al Thani, a first for FIBA

The IOC has abandoned it without regret, but FIBA continues to respect a rule that has long been sacred in the Olympic movement: the alternation of continents. Coupled with the principle of a single mandate, it benefited a leader from the Middle East on Wednesday 23 August.

Qatari Saud Ali Al Thani (pictured above) was unanimously elected President of the International Basketball Federation at the Manila Congress. He was the only candidate for the top job. Saud Ali Al Thani succeeds Mali’s Hamane Niang, who had completed his four-year term after replacing a representative from another continent, Argentina’s Horacio Muratore, in 2019.

Since the end of the 1990s, FIBA has introduced the rule of a single mandate and geographical alternation for the position of president. However, the position had never before been held by a leader from the Middle East, since the creation of the body in 1932.

The election of Sheikh Saud Ali Al Thani on Wednesday 23 August in Manila, on the eve of the opening of the Men’s World Cup in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan, may seem like a first. But it comes as no surprise. The Qatari had been waiting for four years in the waiting room, on the FIBA vice-president’s seat. Among his other achievements: the presidency of FIBA Asia since 2002. Earlier in his career, he chaired the Qatar Basketball Federation and was vice-president of the Qatar Olympic Committee.

Called to the rostrum to give his first impressions as the new strongman of world basketball, Saud Ali Al Thani gave a speech that was willingly unifying: “It is a great honor to take over this responsibility: for me, for my country of Qatar, and for our continent of Asia. I now represent the interests of all 212 National Federations across all five Regions. Basketball is a global sport and this is our most important strength.

Coincidentally, Saud Ali Al Thani will complete his presidential term in 2027, the year in which the Men’s Basketball World Cup will be held for the first time in his own country, Qatar.

With this assumption of power, the Olympic movement is tilting a little further east. It is turning another notch towards Asia and the Middle East. In recent years, the region has won a solid handful of international federations, some of them long headed by European officials.

In June 2022, South Korea’s Kim Jae-youl won the presidency of the International Skating Union (ISU). Two weeks later, the world weightlifting body (IWF) entrusted the keys to the presidential office to Iraq’s Mohamed Jalood. Kuwaiti Husain Al-Musallam will preside over World Aquatics from 2021. Last October, Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al-Thani, the fifth son of the Emir of Qatar, was elected unopposed as the first vice-president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

In Manila on Wednesday 23 August, the FIBA Congress did more than just bid farewell to Hamane Niang of Mali and open the door to his Qatari successor. The delegates also renewed their governance.

There was no change in the position of treasurer, with Germany’s Ingo Weiss returning for a third term. The Central Office, on the other hand, has something new to offer. Among its thirteen elected members (excluding the president and treasurer) are five women: the American Carol Callan, the Japanese Yuko Mitsuya, the Romanian Carmen Tocala, the head of Palau Jubilee Kuartei, and the Rwandan Pascale Mugwaneza. Parity is on the march.

Another notable newcomer is Yao Ming. The 42-year-old former pivot for the Chinese national team and the Houston Rockets has joined the central office. At 2.29m, he will raise the average height.

In addition to the President and Treasurer, the Central Board will be made up of the Secretary General, Andreas Zagklis of Greece, and the Presidents of FIBA’s five confederations: Anibal Manave of Mozambique for Africa, Fabian Borro of Argentina for the Americas, K. Govindraj of India for Asia, Spain’s Jorge Garbajosa for Europe, and Australia’s David Reid for Oceania.

The last two members, a representative of the NBA and a representative of the players, will shortly be chosen by the central office.