Mark Woods argues that not only should FIBA vote Yes to Great Britain going to the Olympics – it must.


Confined to the inside pages, out of sight and largely out of mind, basketball nestles not only far behind the all-powerful football but a host of other sports competing for attention.

Want a game? Best of luck. On the local playground, the net lies untouched and unloved, the beat of the ball below reverberating off feet not hands.

Sure, hoops is heard of, appreciated even but it is far from the mainstream. There are grand plans, one hears, to capitalise on the Olympics. Only time will tell if they will bear fruit or remain a pipe dream.

Living in Spain as a student as the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona approached, it was hard to uncover evidence of a growing omnipotent force.  There had been trips to world championships, a semi-final spot even in 1982. Too bad that was the summer when futbol’s Copa Mundial was in town.

Two years later, at the Los Angeles Games, silver was taken back to Iberia by a side which contained the country’s first NBA player – the late tragic Fernando Martin.   

Still, there were few hints that – barely a generation later – a collective of world-class stars, who had been inspired by the Dream Team and their own homegrown memories, would go on to challenge the USA for world supremacy.

Would it have happened if Catalunya had not won the right to light the Olympic flame? Perhaps. Even with Spain finishing a lowly ninth, did the exposure which baloncesto gained at the Games, help to catalyse the growth in the ACB and the seemingly incessant talent production line?

“I believe it did, yes,” declared Spain’s current playmaker José Calderon (pictured left).

That cycle of success could be repeated in Great Britain, a generation onward. And that tantalising possibility is why FIBA must say yes when its 22-strong brains trust sits down in Lyon on Sunday and ponders whether to award the hosts an automatic place at the London Games.

To do so would be to open the door, to hand British basketball a sporting chance of breaking its own cycle of mediocrity.

To shut the door in its face would be a brutal condemnation and a sign that self-interest and short-termism have prevailed.

Remember 2005? That historic meeting when England, Scotland and Wales agreed to step out of their comfort zone and take steps into uncertainty. The domestic game was at its lowest ebb, our international teams mired in the outer reaches. Basketball was anonymous. Many of its most faithful supporters had simply drifted away.

Fast forward to now. Two national teams are preparing to take on the very best in the Eurobasket finals, each squad blessed with young vibrant talent.

The country’s premier arena was packed it its 19000 capacity on successive nights to watch the sport. It may have been the NBA’s flavour on show but the seeds have been sown.

There is a solid legacy plan, which has the myriad parties working largely in harmony. Certainly, many flaws remain: the lack of facilities, poor support for coaches, the BBL’s invisibility. Receiving a spot in the Olympics will not solve everything overnight. The home nations are not yet willing to merge. There will still be too many voices. It is not unreasonable to ask that they settle for one vote, not three.

But the steps forward have been numerous and huge. More advances can yet be made.

Spain’s success was not built in a day. All that is required was time. That’s all Britain is asking for.

And a show of faith signalled with a vote of yes.

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