British Basketball has been given a small slice of hope over its future financial support from public funds after a review of UK Sport.

It recommended both a greater focus on funding team sports as well as softening the current ‘no-compromise’ approach targeting medals over long-term investment.

The appraisal, which follows a wide consultation at the end of 2014, reveals that 86% of sports and 70% of the public respondents back UK Sport’s current use of Olympic and Paralympic medals as a key goal in dividing up its £100 million budget.

However basketball – along with a number of other sports that were ditched from high performance Lottery grants in the wake of London 2012 – appears to have made some degree of a case for greater flexibility in the process with the government agency now pledging to “explore wider impact factors (beyond medals), including number of medallists and participation levels in its measures of success if required, to make investment decisions around sports of equal medal potential.”

As MVP revealed on Tuesday, much of the podium focus will remain unchanged post-Rio 2016, with the present eight-year pathway for financing to continue. However UK Sport is now to consider 12-year plans where monies and potential permit, with basketball now likely to assert its potential to deliver world medals by the time of the 2024 Olympics due to its vast participation base.

But just having lots of people taking part will, as before, not be a primary argument for landing a pot of cash. The odds on delivering returns on the Olympic stage will continue to be the number one factor. Basketball still has a mountain to climb.

“UK Sport has proven its ability to deliver Olympic and Paralympic medal success over a period of 18 years, and it is essential that we continue to refine our investment policy to ensure we remain competitive on the world stage and deliver the best possible return on our investment while continuing to build on the system that helps our talented athletes achieve medal success,” UK Sport CEO, Liz Nicholl, said.

“We will always have to operate within finite resources, but we understand the desire from sports and partners in the sector, as well as the public, for us to be able to extend the impact of our investment into more sports. We will now work to develop a clear, prioritised and costed plan, in line with our Board’s direction, and in collaboration with Government, to ensure we are ready to implement our new policy in time for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic investment cycle.

“While planning for Tokyo 2020, we will continue to provide our very best support to every potential medallist preparing for Rio, giving them the best possible chance to succeed and make the nation proud again next summer.”

British Basketball was among those took part in a stakeholder workshop in Loughborough on 14 November while formal written submissions were also received from Basketball Scotland, the BBL, Plymouth Raiders as well as the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Basketball (although not, curiously, from either Basketball England or Wales.)

Additionally, basketball accounted for 18% of the individual submissions – 139 in total, second behind rowing – with a member of clubs and organisations involved.

Of greater weight, though, was political pressure from government at both a UK and devolved level to tweak UK Sport’s remit in a way that serves a more strategic good.

“UK Sport has played a vital role in Britain’s medal success over the years, backed by significant investment from the Government and the National Lottery,” said UK Minister for Sport Helen Grant said. “But it is right that it looks at what more it can do to help maintain that success.

“I welcome UK Sport continuing to focus on medals and medallists to help Britain succeed in future Olympic and Paralympic Games, and to keep up the momentum from London 2012 and Sochi. But I am also pleased that it is open to taking the broader value of its investment into account in its funding decisions.”

The process

In a detailed questionnaire, respondents were asked whether the primary focus of UK Sport’s investment policy should continue to be delivering medal success as the outcome. The report, compiled by Comres, found:

-A clear majority of sector stakeholders (sports organisations, NGBs, and informed independent commentators) felt that the current focus on medals should continue, although some expressed concerns about how this principle was being interpreted.

-A significant minority of sector stakeholders felt that the focus on medals should not continue or should be balanced by other factors. These are outlined in detail in subsequent chapters.

-Disagreement was more prevalent among responses received from the general public (roughly a 50/50 split across the public responses), although not all public respondents demonstrated an understanding of the question’s context – in particular, that UK Sport’s remit is to invest in high-performance sports, and that other governmental bodies exist with a community sport remit.
Most respondents, looking at the issue from a wide range of different perspectives emphasised that UK Sport had set a simple goal and consistently achieved that goal, and that, in the main, this approach should be continued.

Respondents were also asked whether UK Sport should consider investing in or supporting sports or athletes who are further down the performance pathway, i.e. those who are more than eight years away from winning a medal. If so, they were asked on what basis this investment or support could be provided. The report surmised that:

-The key point made in favour of the current approach was that it avoided any “dilution” of funds, and therefore of impact.
-The key point made in favour of funding beyond eight years was that it prevented slippage – either through athletes dropping out of the system, or team sports being unable to build on intermediate milestones. If affordable, a twelve- year outlook was the preferred option for sector stakeholders with a performance focus.

There was also an examination that UK Sport should prioritise investment in sports with social impact, with basketball among those making the loudest case.

A submission, thought to be from the All-Party Parliamentary Group, wrote:

“Investments should be targeted at sports that are relevant to the largest numbers of people in the UK, and not to sports that are rarely played due to weather conditions, cost, or lack of suitable facilities which impact significant numbers of people’s enjoyment of particular sports.

“For example, if UK weather conditions preclude access to the general public to a particular sport, it makes little sense to send athletes overseas year round, in order to try to „bump up‟ the medal table once every 4 years. The most “accessible‟ sports should get the bulk of any funding, albeit with suitably demanding oversight and performance targets.”

While the switch of emphasis post-2016 is a massive boost for the likes of basketball, volleyball and water polo, those currently left outside the funding tent will now have to back up their cases with deeds – with Great Britain women’s performance at EuroBasket 2015 this summer taking on a huge significance.

But there is now significant support for extra assistance with those sports deemed to be elitist or offering cheap medals likely to come under additional scrutiny beyond the simple measures of golds, silvers and bronzes.

Download the full report here

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