DEAR SUE: MP HODGSON RESPONDS

Great Britain v Croatia: Joel Freeland 568Sharon Hodgson MP, chair of the All-Parliamentary Group on basketball, writes an open letter to Dame Sue Campbell, former chair of UK Sport, to challenge her support for the decision to withdraw funding from British Basketball.

Dear Dame Sue,

I write regarding your recent comments on the withdrawal of elite-level funding for GB basketball by UK Sport.

I would like to make clear how much I admire the work you have done throughout your long career serving sport in this country, and particularly the success of UK Sport under your leadership in terms of medals won at London 2012.

Nevertheless, I was dismayed to read recent remarks attributed to you in the media about UK Sport’s decisions to withdraw elite-level funding from basketball one year into the funding cycle for Rio 2016. Whilst I do believe the ‘No Compromise’ strategy, which you were instrumental in developing, has been successful for many sports, I feel that your comments about a proposed solution show unfamiliarity with the status of basketball both in the UK and globally.

Whilst further participation is always welcome in sports, your advice that basketball should ‘grow its participation base’ contradicts recent figures provided by Sport England which found that once a week participation by over 14s exceeds every other team sport in England bar football, and by some way.

Even DCMS figures from August 2013 show that basketball is the second most played sport by young people between the ages of 11 to 15 years old in the UK, and BME (black and minority ethnic) participation is the highest of any sport, exceeding 51% with the second sport being around only 18%.

These figures are all the more impressive given that Sport England has only funded basketball through its last two Whole Sport Plans, and at a fraction of the amount given to less popular ‘traditional’ sports. Whilst this has been the case, Sport England has actively engaged with the sport and recognised the excellent participation the sport sees with the recent announcement of an increase in funding to grassroots basketball, including the BBL Foundation and extending the scope of Reach and Teach, a London-based not-for-profit which hosts the London School of Basketball and Midnight Madness.

You also suggested that basketball does not ‘have a sufficient structure’; it is difficult to decipher what you mean by structure in your comments so I will cover a few bases on this matter.

Hodgson: hoops fan

Firstly, there has certainly been much historic criticism of GB basketball’s governance and structure; however, I have been assured by Liz Nichols that from UK Sport’s perspective there are no concerns with GB Basketball’s management structure.

Secondly, if your comments are in relation to playing structures, then I must point you in the direction of the successful professional basketball leagues in the UK, across Europe and on virtually every continent; an extraordinary US college system that provides top training and coaching for young basketball athletes from around the world, and; an ever improving BBL professional league locally with increasing partnerships with UK Universities and British Universities and College Sports (BUCS). There are therefore many opportunities accessible to our best and future talent who hold the capability to play for GB at any age group, both male and female, who are being recruited to US colleges, UK and European clubs and in the academies of UK clubs.

Thirdly, it is certainly true to say that our home leagues are not as good as the best leagues in the world, and that too many of our most talented athletes are playing abroad; however, I would note that reliance on overseas-based players is the norm in almost all top basketball nations, bar the US and China.

This has not hampered their success, just as the concentration of football talent in Spain, England, Germany and Italy hasn’t made other nations, such as The Netherlands, any less competitive on the world stage (or made England more competitive!).

I, too, find your comments regarding buying out basketball players from NBA clubs ill-informed as you should know that is not how it works, as explained above. Whilst there are understandable insurance costs to protect contracted players from injuries, which is a totally legitimate expense, you will find that no one quibbles at the expenses of buying, designing and insuring a top racing bike or rowing boat; people understand them to be expenses of the competition, so why do we categorise insuring a basketball player’s knees or hands as an unnecessary expense?

My main concern is the treatment of team sports in this whole process. There is a real concern that the current funding situation for elite-level sports is squeezing out team sports entirely, which will be detrimental to our medal position in Rio 2016.

I completely understand that UK Sport’s remit is to win medals, and it is with others I should debate whether that is flexible enough or indeed is the best use of public money. But even within those policy constraints, I still fail to see how it is possible for Team GB basketball teams, both men and women, which have seen unprecedented progress in the last five years, now ranking in the top 12 in Europe and in the top 25 in the world, to have the rug pulled from beneath them just at the point we are seeing an emerging golden generation of basketball players.

Without funding at the elite level those players have no chance of fulfilling their potential to challenge the top teams, and therefore little to no chance of inspiring the next generation to replace and better them; I don’t think I’m guilty of hyperbole by saying that the withdrawal of funding at this point in the sport’s progression risks killing off completely its development in this country.

I would therefore welcome a chance to meet and discuss this matter further, and particularly the opportunity to talk about the extraordinary journey basketball has undergone and the achievements being made, as well as the importance of basketball to important, but sometimes neglected, sections of our society.

Sharon Hodgson MP

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