Sunday, February 09, 2003

Is Croatia on Planet Earth?

That question is going to be asked a lot in Croatia in following days, at least among basketball fans. While the billions of people all over the world are going to watch NBA All-Star game, Croatians are going to be denied that pleasure. Without any explanation, HRT - Croatian state television - has refused to sign contracts with NBA and thus their viewers (who are mandated by law to pay "subscription") must learn to live with something that was part of their lives for last decade or so – one or more NBA games every week.

Despite the time difference that forced many Croatian viewers to struggle with sleep and fatigue while watching live games in the late hours of night, NBA was
popular and it was source of advertising revenue for state television. So, why is Croatia – country with long basketball tradition and small army of NBA players and NBA wannabes – denied seeing world's best basketball on TV?

There are couple of possible explanations.

Basketball, like all sports, is aired on HRT 3 – third channel of state television. However, this channel is going to be privatised, or at least, this was the law passed in Sabor few years ago. So, when HRT had to renew the contract, its brass was unsure whether the channel is going to be in someone else's hands or not. But, this didn't happen – HRT 3 is still controlled by state, with hardly anyone showing interest – and same considerations didn't prevent HRT from purchasing broadcast rights for Italian and Spanish soccer or Goodyear League basketball. So, this explanation doesn't hold water.

Greed and incompetence is more likely and more credible explanation. Other, less credible, explanation would accuse HRT brass of deliberately sabotaging their programme in order to lower the price of HRT3 (and receive hefty pay-off by potential buyers).

The other theory would explain HRT brass' sudden dislike of NBA with their nationalist feelings. While Croatian teams won medals and Croatian players dominated NBA, basketball was Croatian sport. But these days, after Serbo-Montenegrin team had won World Basketball Championship and Western Conference is dominated by Serb players in Sacramento Kings, basketball suddenly ceased to be Croatian. So, HRT brass, still dominated by sycophants and other spineless creatures installed during Tudjman's years, tries to secure its position for the case of HDZ return after next elections.

However, I consider the greed and incompetence as the simplest and, therefore, the most credible explanation. Yet, for basketball fans in Croatia it is all the same.


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