Credit: BNS - Scanpix
Credit BNS - Scanpix

It's been three weeks since the football's governing body, FIFA, officially announced that foreign players and coaches employed by Russian clubs can suspend their contracts and move elsewhere temporarily. However, players on the basketball field are still in limbo.


Some EuroLeague players who spoke to BasketNews couldn't hide their astonishment at finding themselves unable to leave Russian clubs unrestrained.

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, more than a month ago, and has faced heavy financial sanctions.

Three Russian clubs, CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg, and UNICS Kazan, were officially suspended for the rest of the EuroLeague season.

But technically speaking, it's still not enough to establish a force majeure clause that would automatically permit the suspension of contracts due to unforeseeable circumstances that prevent fulfilling a contract.

Russian clubs still compete in the VTB United League. Also, Russia insists there's no war in Ukraine. They call it "a special military operation."

Some players outside the Russian Federation have a hard time dealing with Russian clubs to get the most important document they've been dreaming about for the last few weeks. It is called letter of clearance (LOC), which allows players to freely switch teams.

If the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT) decides that it's a force majeure situation, it will untie the hands of many EuroLeague players.

Players believe that FIBA could encourage BAT to create guidelines for basketball clubs and players to solve the situation. Just like they did at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

"FIBA still waits to see what will happen. They haven't provided any assistance," one source from the player's camp told BasketNews.

However, FIBA head of legal affairs, Jaime Lamboy, gave a different perspective.

3-pointers this season

Points made: 8,5
Accuracy: 35,7%
Place in standings: 11
Record max: 14
Record min: 2
Most made 3FGs: Billy Baron

"FIBA has approved an expedited process for players transferring from clubs in Ukraine to ensure their right to work is not disrupted as a consequence of the armed conflict. During March alone, FIBA has approved 49 LOCs under this expedited process," Lamboy said to BasketNews on Friday.

"FIBA is managing all requests for Letter of Clearance from Russian clubs under normal procedures as per FIBA Internal Regulations. During March alone, FIBA has received 24 requests for LOCs of players transferring from Russian clubs to other leagues (five of them are related to clubs in ECA competitions). All of these LOCs have been approved," Lamboy confirmed.

The problem is that usually, teams and players go through standard LOC procedures after finding an agreement before.

According to BasketNews sources, some cases almost developed into BAT lawsuits.

So far, every case has been very individual.

For example, Zenit St. Petersburg initially had quite an aggressive approach, but later they changed.

Zenit added financial bonuses to players' agreements and promised them the flexibility to rediscuss their contracts under favorable conditions in the summer to convince them to finish the season, per BasketNews sources.

As a result, Jordan Loyd, Billy Baron, Tyson Carter, Alex Poythress, and Jordan Mickey returned to Zenit to continue the VTB League season.

Mateusz Ponitka officially parted ways with Zenit on undisclosed terms. But that didn't happen until he got back to play in St. Petersburg and faced massive pressure due to his decision. Arturas Gudaitis is also on his way to Napoli.

CSKA, for example, officially parted ways with three essential players, Tornike Shengelia, Iffe Lundberg, and Daniel Hackett, for a buyout in return.

The amount of buyout was very individual. Usually, it depends on the salary and contract duration.

For example, Hackett, who was on an expiring contract, paid $100k from his pocket to sign with Virtus Bologna, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Shengelia had to spend more to get himself free of the multi-year contract with CSKA and join Hackett in Italy.

Johannes Voigtmann and Marius Grigonis also left Russia, but they're still under the multi-year contract with the Moscow club. They're expected to reconsider their agreements until the free agency starts.

Some of the agents found peaceful solutions to deal with clubs. But in most cases, they had to offer something in return.

In none of these situations, a player was free to choose what was best for him. That's when they turned to The EuroLeague Players Association (ELPA).

However, according to BasketNews sources, ELPA still lacks legal power.

"They're offering good advisory assistance to navigate the situation. But they haven't been able to do anything about it," one source said BasketNews.

ELPA didn't respond to BasketNews' request to comment on the situation.

UNICS Kazan had the most definite stance dealing with the letter of clearance. BasketNews sources called it "radical."

According to Ian Begley of SNY, Jarrell Brantley, the first to leave the Tatarstan club, was sued by UNICS.

Mario Hezonja, OJ Mayo, Marco Spissu, Tonye Jekiri, and coach Velimir Perasovic stayed to finish the VTB United League season. However, John Brown, Isaiah Canaan, Lorenzo Brown, John Holland, and Brantley didn't return.

Per BasketNews sources, some of these players had lucrative offers to switch teams, but UNICS didn't approve these moves.

"We have no information to suggest that any EuroLeague or EuroCup player is retained by a club against his will," Ibrahim Erkan, Euroleague Basketball Sports Director, told BasketNews.

"The contract between a player and a team always includes mechanisms to solve situations where a player or a team wants to cease the existing commitment. It is just a matter of reaching an agreement between both parties," he explained.

"We have several examples referring to the specific case of Russian teams since the war in Ukraine started, Toko Shengelia, Iffe Lundberg, Daniel Hackett or Mateusz Ponitka."

"We are in constant communication with ELPA and our clubs, offering our support in any situation," Erkan added.

Credit BNS

A lot of players remained in Russia. Some of them even switched teams inside the VTB League. So not everybody feels uncomfortable continuing their career in Russia.

But some players would like to be able to choose, just like footballers, who received official permission to decide on their future on their own.

Asked what further actions could other basketball authorities do to solve the situation, Ibrahim Erkan answered: "This is a question for the other authorities."

Who should be given priority? Players, who want to escape the country that started a war, are now under heavy financial restrictions and can't compete in the major European tournament, or clubs, who still have obligations in domestic competition and would be harmed if players left without any fee?

BasketNews approached BAT but didn't get a response.

According to BasketNews sources, the basketball community is waiting for one certain case between the Russian club and its player that is being analyzed now. It will set a strong precedent for any subsequent issues.

"Unfortunately, nobody could have foreseen that a war would happen in the middle of the season and the collateral repercussions of such a terrible situation," the EuroLeague Sports Director Erkan told BasketNews.

"I don't think that this topic can be evaluated under the concepts of right or wrong, but all parties should be open to communication to achieve the best solution."

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