Interview with Éric Elena, Founder and President of Monaco Basket Association (MBA)
His bond with Monaco has been marking him since his birth and growing up in the Principality. Basket has been his great passion for around fifteen years. Building a Girl Roca Team has been a clear goal in his mind and the achievement is in full evolution, with high expectations.
Éric Elena, brother of the Monegasque record-breaking world-rally co-driver, Daniel, realized his great dream. In November 2009 he gave life to Monaco Basket Association (MBA), aimed at promoting the practice of this paramount sport both at amateur and professional level. His perseverance and huge commitment allowed him to give space to women’s basketball thanks to the support of a skilled professional, Olga Tarasenko, former Russian international player and renowned coach, who allowed the Team to reach an excellent ranking, the Nationale 2 in the French semi-professional league. Soon after a further stage, Nationale 1, was conquered and together with the most recent achievements it gave MBA girls access to the 2022 Trophée Coupe de France final, for the second time since the club foundation. MBA definitely ranks as the second-best Monaco team in the striped orange-ball game.
HelloMonaco had the nice opportunity to interview Éric Elena and find out more about his sports project.
HelloMonaco: Mr. Elena, can you tell us how your club was born?
Éric Elena: Monaco Basket Association took its first steps in the framework of AS Monaco Basket amateur sector, according to an agreed partnership with different visions however. At a certain point it was no longer feasible to stay inside the paramount club, and I said to myself: what about creating a new club with a team of my own? I therefore proposed the project to the Monegasque Government who said yes after about a fortnight. On the 29th November 2005 MBA was born and I am still grateful for this. The club grew rapidly including men’s and women’s training. Since Sergei Dyadechko became president of AS Monaco Basket, I have been focusing on Girls conceiving a semi-professional Team. Success was quickly visible and it is steadily rising. In 2017, we were Champions of France in Bercy. It was a great achievement considering that we started with few facilities. Now we have an official “seat” and we usually play at the Annonciade Gymnasium. The space is not huge but well equipped and I am very happy about it.
HelloMonaco: What is your current relationship with La Roca Team?
ÉE: Well, I still hope to create a corresponding Women’s team to La Roca Boys. But, currently, I do not have the means to do so, to be realistic. I have met Sergei Dyadechko many times; we both share the same interests, we are fond of basket. Nevertheless, we should have more help from the state to reach this goal, notably becoming a fully-professional club. Sportswise, we are close to reaching the desired standards. At this very moment, I have many hopes since the role of women is greatly valued at government level. Moreover, several members from the Monaco Olympic Committee believe in us and have supported our mission for a long time.
HelloMonaco: Do you think it is possible to associate again with AS Monaco Basket?
ÉE: I wish it could be possible. Thus, I would like to meet the new president, Alexey Fedorychev, to talk about it. I do believe that having both a major men’s and women’s basket professional team represents the future for the Principality. Basket is a unisex sport, not by chance, and time seems ripe for providing a turning point.
HelloMonaco: Can you tell us about the team and the coach?
ÉE: The team is of high-level and it is skillfully trained by Alexandra Tchangoue, talented French basketball player and new coach of the team which now consists of a dozen athletes of various nationalities. The American top-player Ashunae Durant recently joined us, bringing us her precious team spirit, while the British-Canadian Julia Chandler jumped in for the 2020-2021 season directly from Dayton Flyers Basketball (Ohio, USA).
HelloMonaco: How does the recruitment of women’s players work?
ÉE: It works the same way as for men’s basketball. There are sports agents and a basketball market before each season. I often receive requests to join the team. Personally, I consider all that somewhat exaggerated and it caused an increase in prices. So, you have always to keep your feet on the ground and do what you can. Certainly, the men’s basketball costs are still much higher than women’s. My girls’ earnings may cover accommodation and basic living costs. Four of them count on basketball to live, the others do other things in life and one is still studying. So, it is quite tough for them since they have little time to train only in the evenings and during the weekends. Besides that, they have to follow the team matches away and also each season is made of twenty-two games, plus four extras among the best finalists. And finally the Coup de France, an elimination-based championship.
HelloMonaco: What about the MBA training ground?
ÉE: It works very well. We have been in contact with the national education system for a while and we are working on possible future partnerships. I do hope to make new projects with AS Monaco’s Basket Amateur, since the new appointed president, Nicholas Chattahy, and I have a joint feeling to collaborate. As said before, I am open to come back to AS Monaco but under certain conditions. We absolutely want to keep our identity and improve as sports club.
HelloMonaco: What does basket represent for you?
ÉE: I approached basketball absolutely by chance. I used to play football, then I put myself in motor sport in the footsteps of my brother. In other words, I have been completely plunged in the world of sport. Last but not least, I began to feel basket spirit through my son who started playing at the age of five. Since then, he became a real enthusiast and so I did.
HelloMonaco: What kind of spirit drives you with the girls’ team?
ÉE: I really appreciate my role as MBA president and I consider all members of the team as my ‘daughters’. I will do anything for them. I keep good relations also with athletes who no longer play with us, which is valuable for me. I care a lot about the human side.
HelloMonaco: What do you wish for Monaco women’s basket?
ÉE: My wish is to bring MBA up to the second division and see La Roca Team girls & boys together in Euro-League one day. It would be brilliant, and I am looking forward to it.