VILNIUS - Lithuania was left as one of only three aspirants to host the 2007 European Men's Basketball Championship when, on May 5, neighboring Latvia pulled out of the competition.
Citing a new FIBA requirement regulating the number and capacity of stadiums in a host country, the Latvian Basketball Union withdrew its application to host the tournament in three years' time.
According to the regulations, a host country has to have one stadium with capacity for 12,000 spectators and another with capacity for at least 5,000, a requirement that would force Latvia to construct two entirely new stadiums.
Organizers had originally hoped to renovate the Ventspils Olympic Hall so that it could seat some 3,000 basketball fans.
In light of the requirement, organizers declined to pay the $3,000,000 licensing fee and dropped out of the selection process. One Baltic country's misfortune turns into another one's gain, however, as the news of Latvia's resignation increased the chances that Lithuania may be given the title of host instead.
Lithuania, which is left to contend with Spain and Poland for the nod to hold the tournament, initiated its bid soon after the country's upset victory at the 2003 European Basketball Championship, when the men's team took the gold medal in Sweden last summer.
Days after the win, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who attended a number of the matches, announced plans to enter the competition, which is held every two years in a different country.
Brazauskas pledged upgrades for existing stadiums in Lithuania's largest cities and a swift finish to the construction of the sporting facility currently being erected in Vilnius.
Despite the local optimism surrounding the bid, some figures closer to the process expressed doubts as to Lithuania's chances in light of the other heavyweight contestants.
"Practically speaking, I don't really see Lithuania as a real competitor. I give it a 20-percent chance," said Gediminas Navikauskas, vice-president of the Zalgiris basketball club.
According to Navikauskas, while Lithuania's reputation as one of the continent's most basketball-crazed nations could work in its favor against the Polish bid, the Spaniards will be almost impossible to overcome.
"Spain has a long tradition of basketball just like Lithuania. But unlike Lithuania, it's a much bigger country with more infrastructure," he said.
Lithuania last held the Eurobasket championship in 1939, when it won its second gold medal in as many tournaments. Serbia and Montenegro will play host to next year's tournament.