A philosophical question. What is the Women’s British Basketball League for?

The premise, harking back to its inception six years ago, was to raise the standard of the female game in this country, to better promote it, to perhaps monetise it, but principally to give the pathway a good shake and make it fit for purpose.

How’s that working out so far?

Well, in the most recent Great Britain line-up, the dozen which lost to Belarus to consequently miss out on EuroBasket 2021, only Hannah Robb emerged through the domestic pathway – now at Leicester, following a good grounding at Caledonia.

And in seeking out lessons from abroad to ameliorate the pyramid in the UK, then perhaps it is time to be even more radical, Newcastle Eagles head coach Chris Bunten declares.

“If you look across leagues in Europe, like Romania, some of their Under-20s will get paid higher than import players because you have to have a Under-20 home-grown player on the court for the first half,” he asserts.

“It’s a fantastic idea which would only develop their country and they’ve done a lot better in the women’s game in terms of European Championships.

“I quite like that idea. It’s not about the (WBBL). Andy Webb and Jamie Press are heavily involved in the organisation but they just sit there. It’s the franchises who make a push for what we should be doing or be driving.

“Unfortunately every team has their own ideas about what that looks like, what their goals are and why they’re in the league.

“For me personally, speaking solely for myself, I want to be a commercial league because we want it to grow, we want players to get paid and have housing, to have cars. Some clubs may offer that, some don’t.

“But want to attract the best players. And if you have those British players, you’re only going to get better.

“Should we say you should have one homegrown player on the court at all times? Maybe. It’s not something I’d support right now because my team would probably be weakened.

“But is it good for the game? Most definitely.”

Listen to the full interview with Chris Bunten in the latest MVP Cast – stream here or download via your podcast provider


The simple issue, the naysayers will cry, is a lack of cash. While the governing bodies of other sports acquire the resources to offer decent contracts to homespun talents that are well above the living wage, basketball simply scrapes by.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of political influence or commercial graft. But when a minor sport like netball can dish out full-time deals to dozens of players and hoops twiddles its thumbs, it’s another reason to question the strategy and operation that sits above.

In the meantime, says Bunton, the model has been sharpened by Leicester Riders’ move to provide Holly Winterburn with a package upon her return from the USA. A stipend. A scholarship to Loughborough University.

And as a professional a set-up as the WBBL can offer.

“That’s one route,” he underlines. “What I think should happen is – however GB Basketball or Basketball England can do it – there should be funding for the top 12 young players, men and women, at Under-18 level.

“So you can say to them, if you stay in this country, you get X amount of money and you can use that however you want to: living, accommodation, whatever.

“And choose a university that betters you as a basketball player. So for women, it might be Leicester or Edinburgh or Cardiff. You have an opportunity to get an education and be in a pathway where you can develop.”

However it is also about nurturing the WBBL’s potential to become self-sustaining in due course.

Perhaps not at the level of the uber-leagues in Spain or France (in truth, they are driven by local authorities with spare budgets for sport of the like the UK will probably never see) but sufficient to offer an alternative to a decent graduate job for those with the talent and desire to want to make hoops their initial career.

Creating value is paramount. Not just a grumble for the female game, of course. Great Britain’s men go for glory and a EuroBasket place this weekend.

The social media outcry when British Basketball confirmed that it would require the payment of £8.49 for a streaming pass to tune in – rather than watching for free – outlined an issue bemoaned by many: the culture of getting something for nothing.

To be eradicated, Bunten hopes, from the WBBL.

“The Eagles do a very good job of saying you should pay for it, like you wouldn’t expect to walk into a men’s game for free.

“The amount of texts I’ve had from opposing teams saying: ‘can you send me a code for the game?’ I believe it’s £2.99 to watch us online. If you really want to watch us you’ll pay.

“We’ve had discussions at a club level saying, if you want to put a value on it, then start charging for it. Someone might go: ‘that’ll reduce the amount of people watching.’ That’s fine. They wouldn’t watch it anyway.

“If we want to commercialise this league, we have to go – regardless of how much they’re getting paid – the players play really good basketball and they deserve to be put on that same level.

“We need to put a price on it rather than belittling ourselves.”

This first appeared in The Post Up – MVP’s regular email newsletter with exclusive news and features – Subscribe today.

Photo: Ahmedphotos

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