Crack open the bubbly. Great Britain’s men and women are Olympics-bound. At a meeting in Lyon, FIBA’s central board opted to award the hosts an automatic berth at London 2012.

However, the deal – agreed by a 17-3 majority after what is understood to have been heated debate among the Central Board of FIBA – came with strings attached which will have potentially sensitive ramifications for the three UK home nations involved.

The special exemption that has allowed England, Scotland and Wales to retain separate governing bodies – but still combine forces on the international stage at senior and Under-20 level – is to be ended by 2016.

By June next year, revealed FIBA’s secretary-general Patrick Baumann, the three must definitely decide whether to combine forces into a single British basketball federation – or go their separate ways.  

"Whenever you have more than one boss, typically, it’s not good," said FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann. "But they’ve told us they want to have a women’s league. They want to host a Eurobasket. They want to work with the British Basketball League. For this you need one strong body.”

Ahead of the decision, British Basketball Federation chairman Bill McInnes made his pitch to those who held Team GB’s fate in their collective hands. 'We’re ready, he signalled.

This is the only sport where the global governing body, rather than the national Olympic committee, decides if the home nation can be waved through without the uncertainty of qualifying in its own right. Dossiers were submitted. Assurances were given. Right through Sunday, flesh was being pressed and ears bent in the cause at the five-star hotel where they had gathered.

Following an anxious wait, and a prolonged discussion. the delegates agreed that the 2012 hosts were better in than out.

But the edicts set down leaves the three home nations with some tough thinking ahead.

"18 months is tight," said McInnes. "So we have a lot of work to do to make that happen."

For Britain’s leading players, there is now the delicious prospect of showcasing themselves on the grandest stage of all.

Having qualified for this summer’s Eurobasket finals, there is no doubt that both GB teams can hold their own. The question – particularly for a men’s team which includes NBA players Luol Deng and Ben Gordon – is how far they can go. 

“We’re not going just to make up the numbers," said GB forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu. "We want to go there and show that British basketball deserves its place among the top countries in the world.

“I’m overjoyed now it’s official. This is beyond our wildest dreams. I'm so inspired that I feel like going to the gym right now.”

Added GB women's star Jo Leedham: "There's a real sense of relief that we've got it. Although we've got it now I don't think it will sink in for a while."

The announcement marks the end of a six-year countdown in which the prospect of an Olympic place has driven radical change within the sport in the UK.

And basketball now becomes the final sport to confirm homegrown participation at London 2012.

British Olympic Association Chief Executive Andy Hunt said: “We are delighted that FIBA has rightfully given both the men’s and women’s British basketball teams the opportunity to compete for Team GB in front of an enthusiastic home crowd at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

“Today’s decision is recognition of the excellent progress made by British Basketball on and off the court over the last five years and represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the sport to significantly increase its participation and profile, and leave a lasting legacy throughout the UK.

“We are confident that the British players will thrill the public with credible, exciting performances and by showcasing their skill and talent, inspire new generations of basketball players across the UK.”

The agreement between England, Scotland and Wales to combine forces at senior and Under-20 level brought a single Great Britain team back into play for the first time in almost two decades.

The incentive was to see a British line-up on court at a Games for the first time since 1948 when the hosts failed to win a single game in what remains the men's only prior appearance on the sport’s grandest stage.

They'll hope for better this time around. 


“We are obviously excited and relieved to know once and for all we will be part of this historic sporting event," Head Coach, Chris Finch, said. 

"I'm very pleased for our players, our board, the staff at British Basketball, all those at the various federations and for everyone in the British basketball community. Their hard work and dedication to support and grow the game has been duly rewarded."

Likewise, the women will relish their chance.

 “We are very proud of what we have achieved over the last few years and to be given the opportunity to step on court against the world’s best at the highest level of competition will be the highlight of an enormous amount of hard work to reach this position," said Head Coach, Tom Maher. 

"This will be my fifth Olympics and I’m excited to be accompanying the GB women’s team at their first appearance.”

The countdown starts now.

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