Basketball England chair Clare Wardle has admitted the sport has much work to do to right its ship, including cutting overheads, after “two years of disruption”.

Speaking for the first time since the coup that effectively wrestled overall control of the sport away from the British Basketball Federation and back under the yoke of the home nations, the Coca Cola executive has revealed that she did offer her resignation during the contentious battle over how the Great Britain teams should be funding, despite previous denials from Basketball England.

The lawyer, who faced calls to step down in tandem with her chief executive Stewart Kellett, saw a number of her own board quit in frustration at the way its business was being run.

And Wardle told Press Association Sport: “I did wonder if I should go and I offered my resignation to the regional chairs. But, and it came as a slight surprise to me, they said ‘don’t go, we’ve had too much turnover at senior level, stick with it’.

“I have always said that I only want to be useful and I will leave when I am told I am not being useful anymore.”

With the remnants of the former BBF executive, including CEO Lisa Wainwright, now ushered out the door, and a new board in place, there will be little option but to proceed.

The controversies may not be at an end, with questions now being asked over the unadvertised process which is set to lead to the appointment of Nicky Shaw – currently a director of Basketball England – into a paid position as part-time secretary general of the BBF, plus the dual roles held by Sir Rodney Walker as chair of both the British Basketball League and director of BBF, a conflict of interest understood to be explicitly prohibited in the latter’s constitution.

Yet with Basketball England launching their strategic plan up to 2024, entitled ‘Growing Basketball Together’, Wardle has defended her decision to push for a cost-cutting proposal in co-operation with Scotland and Wales rather than a more expensive option advanced by the BBF’s former chair Ed Warner and his predecessors.

“Everyone is scratching around for money and everyone is defending their bit of the cake but I think if we got together we could bake a bigger cake,” she said.

“The home nations are as one: let’s cut our overhead spend and focus on getting teams on the court. Ed Warner came in quite briefly and he wanted a bigger central operation but without UK Sport funding the money for that could only come from the home nations and that, frankly, wasn’t going to fly.

“We didn’t make anyone resign, we told them we weren’t going to give them the money they wanted. National teams are important, of course they are, but so are the grassroots, so is Junior NBA, so is walking basketball.

“I think it’s wrong that UK Sport won’t fund a sport like this. We ought to have a pathway. But if we together, and not in silos, we can be successful. It’s not going to be easy. I was talking to my counterpart in Belgium recently and they have the same problem: not enough money. But by sharing coaches, sharing resources and lots of goodwill, we can do it.”

Sport England has backed Basketball England in the row over who should run the Great Britain set-up, describing this year’s funding crisis as a “massive distraction”.

That row culminated in the resignation of most of the BBF board in July when the home country associations of England, Scotland and Wales refused to approve BBF chairman Ed Warner’s plan for a more centralised GB programme, under BBF control.

This followed months of talks with the funding agencies about providing emergency support so the senior and age-group GB teams could fulfil their fixtures.

At one point, there were even concerns that the whole GB programme would have to be mothballed, a move which would have brought severe sanctions from FIBA.

This threat prompted a parliamentary debate about the inequalities of the funding system that was only resolved when sports minister Tracey Crouch promised to intervene – a promise she kept when the BBF was given £500,000 in May to keep the GB set-up afloat long enough for it to find a more sustainable model.

That money was meant to come from UK Sport, which does not usually fund sports unlikely to win an Olympic medal within two Games, but £305,000 of that sum was withheld following a dramatic BBF board meeting.

The fallout saw Wardle and Kellett accused of leading a boardroom coup and of mismanaging the sport.

In a resignation letter, which Press Association Sport has seen, one of the BBF directors told Crouch: “I still cannot fathom why (the home country associations) are so hell-bent on this path of destruction.

“I can only conclude it is a matter of self-interest, land grab and ego that is now putting the athletes and the sport in peril.”

As Basketball England’s largest investor, providing nearly two thirds of its £2.7million annual budget, Sport England – who refused to release its full correspondence with the governing body despite a Freedom of Information request – has also come in for criticism.

Its director of sport Phil Smith told PA: “Some people clearly have it in for the chair and chief executive and they perceive that we are backing them.

“But the fact is they were selected by Basketball England’s board. There are clearly strong feelings around the game but my thoughts, on behalf of Sport England, are that the right people are still in charge.

“They have a good plan and they are doing their best in difficult circumstances. The GB situation has been a massive distraction.”

Smith insisted that the situation in basketball is far from unique, with many national governing bodies choosing to operate a looser, more federal model than the one proposed by Warner, who used to run the much better-funded UK Athletics.

“There is not enough money to go around and everyone is fighting for crumbs,” said Smith.

“Within this environment, you can make the argument for both models. Ed Warner tried to argue for a centralised model but he lost.

“Various allegations were made afterwards and we have looked at them. The communication could have been better but I have found no evidence of wrongdoing in terms of governance.”

Wardle, whose day job is Coca-Cola’s top lawyer in Europe, accepted the point that some mistakes have been made but strongly rejected the claim that any governance rules were broken when the home countries rebelled against Warner, who was among those who quit.

Basketball England is moving in the right direction, she maintained, despite its financial constraints.

“We are doing a lot of good things but there is never enough money to do everything and for our demographic another £10 really matters,” said Wardle.

“It’s not as if we would be OK if everybody gave up the cost of a couple of cappuccinos. Lots of our players don’t drink cappuccino.

“The home nations are as one: let’s cut overheads and spend what we can on getting teams on the court. Ed Warner wanted a bigger central operation but that money was only going to come from the home nations and that simply was not going to fly.

“We did not make anyone resign, we just told them they weren’t going to get the money they wanted. The response to Ed’s plan from the member associations was that it would at best cause serious cash flow problems and at worst potential insolvency.”

MVP’s Mark Woods contributed to this story

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