Patrick Baumann, Secretary-General of FIBA, writes on the eve of Great Britain's D-Day


British basketball is facing the biggest decision in its history – a decision which could propel it to the centre of the world sporting stage.

For too long, despite its huge popularity globally, this thrilling, passionate game has languished in the British sporting backwaters.

Yes, Britons love their football like most European countries but why is it that comparable nations such as France, Spain and Germany manage to also have great basketball sides, cultures and traditions?

Britain has not competed in Olympic basketball for 50 years and if you look at the history of European basketball, the position of Great Britain has been virtually non-existent.

At the moment, the British men’s and women’s teams are the strongest they have ever been, having both made great strides to qualify for this summer’s tough EuroBasket tournaments. And with role-model stars such as NBA hero Luol Deng, Team GB stands on the threshold of a major breakthrough.

This is something that we at the sport’s world governing body FIBA welcome – and something we want to encourage. Time and again, we have seen how a strong national team that performs well at international level can serve as an engine for the development and broader popularity of the game.

However, even though international success can create excitement around a sport, it is not enough on its own for long-term participation and growth.

This is why the British basketball family needs to produce a clear legacy plan, spelling out its vision for years to come, long after the memories of London have begun to fade. Indeed, it would be a crying shame for a whole generation of youngsters to be enthused by the 2012 basketball tournament only to find they have few opportunities to play the game themselves after the Olympic torch has been passed on.

As well as being a thrilling spectacle, basketball has a great social power with a demographic as broad as football’s, a cool and clean image which appeals to all generations and a global appeal second only to football. This magic is already understood and embraced by many in Britain. Basketball is the third most popular team sport played monthly in the UK and is enormously popular with youngsters. Last weekend’s regular-season NBA games at the packed O2 Arena also demonstrated the huge appetite for the game.

So the big issue facing those who run basketball here is how that passion and enthusiasm is harnessed – and not allowed to fizzle out because there aren’t affordable or accessible facilities and adequate coaching. Any blueprint needs to coherently outline how basketball can grow and prosper from street level right the way through to the top tier of international competition.

It also has to address the necessity of developing a strong domestic league with a proper pyramid of sustainable clubs, full of home-grown talent, who can seamlessly step up to the national level when called on.

Finally, the British basketball family has to figure out the best governance model to take the sport forward. Currently, there are three national member federations – England, Scotland and Wales – and the British Basketball Federation has an exceptional status as an umbrella organisation of all the three valid until 2012 only. We cannot move forward indefinitely with this hybrid model. If Britain wants to compete at international level as Team GB then it can only have one representative in the future.

These considerations shape the context for this Sunday when the FIBA Central Board will decide whether Team GB should be allowed automatic entry to play at London 2012. We have been criticised for “moving the goalposts” on qualification but, since the first meetings were had in 2005 and 2006, we have always insisted that as well as being competitive, the British game needs to have a strong legacy plan in place.

I personally want to see Britain competing at every tournament, with a competitive league and cohesive organisational structure which drives the game forward at every level. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Team GB one of the powerhouses of world basketball if the right measures are put in place for the future development of the game.

So while we hope the 2012 competition is the best in Olympic history we also want to ensure that basketball can progress from the wings to the centre stage of British sport. Basketball will and can continue with or without Britain. We would like it to be with. For that reason, the Central Board decision on Sunday is the most important in the history of basketball in the UK.

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