Germany to reshape its sports system after World Cup-winning basketball team defies rankings

AP , Friday 15 Sep 2023

German politicians published planned reforms to the country's sports system on Friday, seeking to stem a long-term slide down the Olympic medals table.

Germany poses with their gold medals after winning the championship game of the Basketball World Cup
Germany poses with their gold medals after winning the championship game of the Basketball World Cup against Serbia in Manila, Philippines, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. AP


The changes come less than a week after Germany won the Basketball World Cup despite a key government-backed ranking listing the game as having the lowest potential for success of any sport on the Summer Olympic program. That increased calls to rethink the system.

“German competitive sport is currently largely unable to fulfill its ambition to be competitive with the world's best,” said a declaration issued Friday following a meeting of sports ministers from Germany's states. “Negative developments with regard to the results of German athletes in international competitions continue despite individual bright spots like winning the Basketball World Cup. Funding structures in elite sport require fundamental change."

Germany went from winning 82 medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics — the first after Cold War-era West and East Germany reunited — to 37 in Tokyo in 2021, even though there are more athletes and more medals to be won these days.

The ministers, who worked with the federal government and the German Olympic committee on the new strategy, said a new independent Sports Agency will be created to oversee funding. There will be an emphasis on ensuring coaches are highly qualified and talented young athletes can be identified.

One particular focus of criticism in recent days is a ranking system which is a key part of the current funding system.

Basketball placed last of 26 sports in the Potential Analysis System, known as PotAS, which ranks German sports' governing bodies by their potential to succeed on the world stage.

The system is backed by the government and the German Olympic committee and is used in deciding how to allocate public funding. The most recent edition for Summer Olympic sports was published in 2021. The report described itself as “objective and transparent," but it has been criticized as too rigid for using the same criteria to judge sports as diverse as boxing and equestrian.

While basketball placed last in the study, the top-ranked sport was track and field. Last month, the German track team failed to win a medal at the world championships for the first time ever, less than a year before the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“After this summer we should finally understand that there is no universal formula for sporting success,” said Andreas Michelmann, the head of the German Handball Association and a spokesman for a wider group of five team sports including basketball.

At a time when the German government is trying to cut bureaucracy, PotAS is going “in the other direction," Michelmann said in comments reported Friday by the dpa news agency.

The German Olympic committee said Friday that PotAS would be “developed further and integrated into the Sports Agency” when that it set up.

Discus thrower Robert Harting posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, after the World Cup final on Sunday that “if basketball players get an invite from the (interior ministry) or a similar level of politics, that has to mean the death of the PotAS system.”

Among a crowd greeting the men's basketball team on its return to Germany on Tuesday was Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, whose ministry oversees sports policy and PotAS. She took a selfie with tournament MVP Dennis Schröder.

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