MPS TURN UP HEAT ON FUNDING GULF

The new chair of the All-Party Group on Basketball claims UK Sport wants the British Basketball Federation to focus on Commonwealth Games.

In a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday at Westminster Hall, which focused on the sport’s lack of funding despite its off-court impact, a wave of MPs vocally criticised the financial support provided by government and public agencies amid statistics that estimate that basketball is the second-largest played youth sport and is likely to have just under half of its participants drawn from non-white players across the UK.

But Alex Sobel, who now heads the Parliamentary grouping, said UK Sport wants the BBF to target the Commonwealths – even though the governing body has no remit over the area.

“UK Sport said to me that GB Basketball should perhaps relook at its strategy and concentrate on the Commonwealth Games,” he said.

“FIBA said that is not possible. I am concerned that UK Sport is luxuriating in complacency about UK basketball and does not understand the implications of its actions across the piece. “An urgent discussion is needed among the Minister, possibly me, GB Basketball, Sport England, UK Sport and others, and I am glad that the Minister is committed to that. As a matter of urgency, we need to move things on so that we can save UK basketball, which is a unique sport in this country.”

Sobel also revealed FIBA had threatened to strip England and Scotland of their Commonwealth Games places if the BBF was unable to fulfil its World Cup and EuroBasket qualifying fixtures. Despite the publication fo a letter from FIBA Europe chief Kamil Novak, sources with the Games sphere have, however, rubbished FIBA’s claims, insisting the Gold Coast field – and funding for the two home nations – is already set.

 

MVP revealed recently how a last-minute deal had been imposed by Sport England to prevent all GB’s junior teams from being pulled out of European competition this summer but the BBF has since admitted it is still under threat of withdrawing from the international fray once its current reserve of funds runs dry.

With representatives of numerous basketball organisations in attendance, Sobel – the Labour MP for Leeds North West – flagged up the looming issue of backing a bid to qualify for the new 3×3 competition at the 2020 Olympics which has yet to be given support by UK Sport.

“The game 3 on 3 is global, urban and an Olympic sport,” he said. “It has a bright future, but we are not even considering its potential for our own programme. UK Sport revealed in its annual review that athletes in para taekwondo, para badminton, sport climbing, karate and BMX freestyle will receive national lottery support, as they enter the Olympic and Paralympic programme for the first time, but not 3 on 3.

“Basketball GB wrote to UK Sport in June last year seeking a meeting about a 3 on 3 programme, but a meeting did not take place until January this year. Basketball GB has asked for help, as it needs expertise to research the position of the 3 on 3 game and strategic support for 3 on 3.

“I am sure that UK Sport will say that Basketball GB did not apply, which is true, but it took six months for UK Sport to engage with Basketball GB, and support was not forthcoming to put in a comprehensive application for Olympic funding. Basketball GB is waiting for UK Sport to confirm that they will support them in the process. We are missing an opportunity with 3 on 3. However, if we do fund it, we still need to keep our elite basketball teams on the court.”

GB’s women could disappear from the international stage without funding (Mansoor Ahmed)

The UK government’s Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, vowed to raise that issue which could bring some investment into the BBF pre-2020 – seven years after it was stripped of grants which averaged around £1.7m per year from 2005-2013.

“I am happy to look further into that, particularly since the qualification process will not be confirmed until early next year,” she said. However she conceded that UK Sport’s current no-compromise policy, that targets Olympic medals, leaves little hope that any funding will be made available until after a promised review of its strategy following the Tokyo Games.

“There is much to appreciate about basketball in the UK, but we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation,” she said. “A great number of conversations have taken place in recent months with British Basketball, Sport England, UK Sport and (Sobel) and the all-party group about the state of the finances in supporting a financially sustainable GB set-up. It is with great regret that none of that investigation has identified viable solutions. That has led to us discussing the matter here again today.

“When I saw British Basketball last year, it was optimistic about a commercial sponsorship that would have helped enormously, but sadly that fell through. British Basketball approached my Department again in January to outline its immediate shortfall, and a great deal of effort on all parts sought a potential solution to support the age group GB teams through Sport England talent funding.

“As our English sports council, Sport England invests in participation and physical activity, but its priority must be to support its grassroots programmes, which include using sport to reach into communities that other initiatives do not.

“The other sports body in which we invest Exchequer and lottery funds is UK Sport. UK Sport funds Olympic and Paralympic success. Its “No compromise” funding philosophy has taken the GB Olympic team from 36th in the medal table in Atlanta 1996 to third in London and now to second at Rio 2016 in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It has done that through investing strategically in the right sports, the right athletes and the right support programmes to meet its goals. UK Sport has made its complex funding decisions for this Olympic and Paralympic cycle, as in previous cycles, based on the likelihood of medal-winning performances in Tokyo in 2020. Against those fundamental criteria, basketball is sadly not yet in a position to receive funding.”

That a succession of speeches highlights local projects achieving results, the debate only highlighted one of British basketball’s greatest long-term problems: the lack of a coherent narrative with so many non-connected interests.

Yet amid a series of impassioned pleas surrounding the societal impact of basketball, that of Tottenham MP David Lammy rung strongest. There should not, and cannot, be a total separation of monies provided to the elite end and the benefits felt across the wider community, he insisted.

“When I look at the figures for this urban sport, which attracts black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the numbers it does, I have to ask why hockey received £28.1 million and the rugby league received £51.6 million,” he said.

“Why is it that canoeing, equestrian, cycling and rowing all do so much better? Where is the equity in that formula? Can the Minister satisfy herself that there is no unintended or unconscious bias in the way that judgments are being made about that funding? Urban communities across the country require young people to have the prospect of reaching their hoop dreams.

“This debate is important because this is a critical moment for basketball in this country. There are many people in the Public Gallery and across the country waiting to hear what the Minister will say. On the tube, people have tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you going to be in the debate? What can you do about it, Mr Lammy?”

“When we look at the problems that urban communities have across the country, we cannot talk about dreams and cut them away in the same breath. We need proper grassroots basketball, of course, but we absolutely need the prospect of being successful in the elite game. Ultimately, this debate is about whether we are going to throw that away after all the effort that has been put in.”

It is a debate which has been going on for some time. It is far from done.

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