HOME NATIONS POISED TO BLOCK GB DEAL

Instead of taking aim at a spot in the World Cup, British basketball is again in danger of shooting itself in the foot.

Just weeks after an unprecedented rescue deal from the UK government worth an initial £500,000 was agreed, it has been revealed that a proposal that would have engineered a tie-up between the British Basketball Federation and BBL has effectively been vetoed by Basketball England, Scotland and Wales.

The surprise power play – led by BE’s chair Clare Wardle, and her counterparts in the other two home nations –  has seen all three refuse to accept spots on the board of BBF or to sign up to a revamped structure which would have also seen each of the trio contribute financially to the central federation in return for sharing services and working more closely together.

Following a rejection of the BBF-BBL link at a meeting in London last week, Wardle and her co-negotiators – David Davies of Scotland and Keith Mair of Wales – are understood to be preparing an alternative that would potentially see the BBF reduced to barely a nameplate with a part-time secretary-general, no dedicated staff or resources, and its agreed regulatory powers either lost or assimilated within Basketball England.

The plan was already branded as “unworkable” by a number of senior figures within the sport when it was first floated. And MVP has learnt there is some opposition to the move within BE’s own board of directors, despite what are thought to be some reservations over the feasibility of BBF to annually generate over £300,000 of commercial income to underpin its ambitions.

With an impasse on the horizon, any failure to reach an accord is likely to be poorly received by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch who personally intervened to obtain Treasury funds following months of lobbying amid fears that all of GB’s teams would have to withdraw from international competition due to a lack of cash.

And even for a sport with a historical ability for self-destruction, the home nations grab for control could spell doom for any future hopes of reaching Olympics and generating NBA and WNBA-level talent, British Basketball’s chair Ed Warner has insisted.

“I’ve only been involved in basketball for a few weeks,” he said. “But in that short time I’ve been shocked at the disregard for GB teams shown by the leadership of England, Scotland and Wales. It’s not something I’ve encountered in any other sport.

“And it’s frustrating because there is so much potential to grow the game over the next ten years and have GB teams qualifying for Olympics and World Cups. Instead, we have various camps pulling apart rather than working together which is what everyone, including UK Sport, want to see.”

The news comes less than 48 hours before Great Britain’s men face Estonia in a vital World Cup qualifier in Glasgow with the players understood to be unhappy against any removal of what remains of a support structure which has already been significantly downgraded since 2012. “The players are very deflated,” said one senior GB international. “We want all these people to work together. This is our livelihood and we want to see decisions taken that are good for basketball.”

Wardle, an executive at Coca Cola Europe, is expected to face tough questioning at Basketball England’s forthcoming AGM about her leadership of her troubled governing body. Both she and Davies refused to comment when contacted by MVP but a statement from Basketball Scotland said: “We remain in discussions with British Basketball and the other Home Country Associations with a view to finding a sustainable long-term solution for British Basketball. We are not in a position to comment any further at this time.”

Added Warner: “There are three massive downsides to what they’re proposing. How can it service GB on the international stage in the longer-term when it would be run largely by volunteers and will not provide the backing and support needed by professional players? It can’t have any commercial credibility. And it massively under-estimates what you require to have a successful governing body, especially on the world stage. With FIBA, we’d no longer have a voice that mattered.”

Warner and the BBF’s chief executive Lisa Wainwright are now likely to go on the offensive with backing from many of the 50 MPs who vocally supported their pleas for financial assistance. The row could scarcely have come at a worse time with UK Sport presently undertaking a public consultation over whether to abandon its Olympic medal-focused approach and replace it with a broader strategy that might see sports like basketball brought back into the funding fold after the Tokyo 2020 Games.

It is a familiar tale. “Is anyone surprised by this?” said former BBF chair Nick Humby. “Ever since the Home Nations agreed to form the BBF after 2012 , there have been individuals on their boards working to undermine it. Drove me out of the Board. Please don’t let them do same to Ed Warner.”

FIBA, who have been involved in attempts to broker a resolution to British basketball’s ongoing issues, could ultimately become more centrally involved if a no-deal end game arises. Although the three home nations have the power to call an Extraordinary General Meeting to alter the shape of the BBF, the federation’s articles of association also call for the global body to act as an arbitrator where disputes arise.

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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