It was a bleak day in Groningen for fans of Donar. On Monday, July 31, Groningen’s basketball team, which has been around since 1951, officially declared bankruptcy after falling into debt exceeding €2 million.
“It is a pitch-black day,” said Jakob Klompien during a press conference. Klompien was the head of the task force that aimed to save Donar from its alarming financial issues and at one point, it seemed that Donar would indeed begin the new season set to tip-off on the 23rd of August.
A call was made for fans to start a crowdfunding campaign in the hopes of raising €600,000. The diehard support for Donar was immediately felt as they raised €700,000 for the sake of their beloved basketball team.
The debt in itself is in the region of €1.7 million. With a negative equity of 1.3 million that has risen over the past three seasons, plus €160,000 spent on preparing for the upcoming season, one of the oldest basketball clubs in the Netherlands finds itself in a dire situation.
Donar aimed to reach an agreement with creditors on the raised amount but the Dutch Tax Services (Belastingdienst) refused the agreement, citing irregular spending and inconsistent bookkeeping as the main reasons.
The Tax Services’ lack of approval was met with confusion by those in the Donar task force who believed the funds raised, plus the agreement to pay creditors 20% of what Donar still has to pay, was more than enough to save the team.
“Top club or not, creating and resolving debt is treated equally,” said a spokesman from the Tax Services. “We looked for solutions, but there were none. It is a pity.”
There is currently still hope for the club to make a restart for the new season, although it remains unclear what the possible solutions will be.
A Dutch basketball giant…
While many people will associate the city of Groningen with its iconic football club FC Groningen, Donar is just as important to the northern city. Their success and history as one of the founding fathers of the sport in the country cannot be underestimated.
Alderman of Sport in Groningen Inge Jongman called the loss of the team “very unfortunate,” and hopes a resolution is met as “the importance of Donar for both supporters and grassroots sport in Groningen is beyond dispute.”
Donar was founded in 1951, 20 years before FC Groningen came about. Along with the city of Den Bosch, is one of the original members that played the first professional basketball season in the Netherlands in 1960.
The club is not just a historic name. They have won a total of 7 Dutch championships, the second most of all time among current teams. Donar has also claimed a total of 7 Dutch cups and 3 Dutch Supercups, both tied for the most of all time in the history of Dutch basketball.
Donar can also claim to be the most successful Dutch team outside of local competition. The team reached the semi-finals of the FIBA Europe Cup in 2018, becoming the first Dutch team in history to ever go that far in European competition.
That 2018 season has become the stuff of legend, not just due to their European adventure but because Donar became the first team ever to win the league championship, the Dutch Cup, and the Dutch Supercup in the same season.
Their success has translated into massive support from the city. MartiniPlaza hosts their home games with a capacity of 4,350 fans, making it the largest basketball stadium in the country.
The size of the arena is more than warranted, having the recognition of being the most supported basketball team in the Netherlands with over 1,700 season ticket holders. Donar can lay claim to not only being one of the founding fathers of the sport but also the biggest team in the country.
…With a history of debt
Despite their reputation on-and-off the court, Donar’s newest financial troubles are the latest in a string of issues over the years. In fact, the number of times Donar has claimed a league title is the same number of times the team was on the verge of collapsing, an astounding seven times.
The first of these came in 1983. A year after becoming national champions for the very first time, it is revealed the club had failed to pay outstanding tax fees during the ‘70s. They would fade into the second division before climbing back up three years later.
They were on the verge of extinction twice during the 1990s, once due to their main sponsor, RZG, an insurance company, pulling out unexpectedly in 1994 and another time due to overspending to try and win another title in 1998.
Somehow, the team survived both of these scares despite a player’s strike due to unpaid wages thanks to a task force that fixed them up financially – at least for a few years.
Basketball in the North
While Donar’s future hangs in the air, basketball fans can still enjoy one other team in the area. LWD Basket, formerly known as Aris Leeuwarden, call the capital of Friesland their home.
Their success is unfortunately nowhere near that of Donar’s but they have reached a national championship final in 2013 as well as a Dutch cup final in 2020. You can catch LWD Basket games at the Kalverdijke, with a capacity of 1,700.
2004 would prove to be a similar story as 1998, as they could not afford to pay head coach Glenn Pinas the money he was owed for over nine seasons. He took a stand against the club, resulting in a 400,000 euro debt. Somehow, Donar starts the new season unscathed.
Four years later, Donar would once again find themselves in financial straits, with tax authorities no longer interested in their pleas. GasTerra, a natural and green gas wholesaler from Groningen, saved the team and changed the name to GasTerra Flames, although fans still prefer to call them Donar.
GasTerra eventually phased out its sponsorship despite winning two championships and the club once again having to count pennies to ensure its survival in 2014. That leads us to the 31st of July, 2023, when Donar once again declared bankruptcy and the club finds itself under enormous financial pressure, potentially leading to their extinction.
Who’s to blame?
Whenever a team of the magnitude of Donar faces such troubling debt issues, fingers will always be pointed and blame is quickly spread.
At the moment, all those fingers are squarely aimed at the former treasurer of the club, Ronald Arkema. Arkema left his position a few weeks ago citing personal issues.
“I think that the Tax Services has been misled by the actions of the treasurer, who completely freaked out and lived in a parallel reality,” said Komplien. “Just as the board, the supervisory board, and the licensing committee have been misled by this treasurer.”
Klompien also stated that in the past seasons, an incorrect evaluation of the financial situation was made along with various bookings in which “the importance of Donar is not made clear.”
Donar is currently investigating if they should pursue any legal action against the former treasurer.
*Image curtesy of GIC.nl.