GB Basketball will take the first step in a potentially lengthy appeals process today, over UK Sport’s decision to scrap its funding. Should they fail to make a strong enough case, the very future of international basketball in Great Britain will be thrown into grave doubt.
Roger Moreland, Chairman, and other members of the GB board will meet with the board of UK Sport at 2pm this afternoon when they will have a 40 minute informal hearing in which to plead their case. UK Sport will issue an official response by this Friday at the latest and, based on the results of today’s hearing, GB Basketball will decide whether or not to launch a full formal appeal.
Should the initial case be soundly rejected by UK Sport today, GB Basketball will be faced with some very tough decisions regarding the future of the country’s international squad. However, it seems unlikely that the case will fail today’s first test.
The momentum behind the campaign has picked up considerably in the last few weeks with a host of figures joining the fight for funding. NBA star Luol Deng has written to Prime Minister David Cameron this week, in a letter published by The Daily Mail on Monday. In it, he reminds the PM that currently 27% of 11-15 year-olds play basketball in Britain, placing the sport second only to football in terms of participation.
Deng spoke in his letter of the immense “honour and pride” of representing Team GB and sought to meet the critics head on, saying, “The sport needs more input from other resources I totally agree, but then let’s force the sport as a whole to live up to its promises and its potential but we need this funding in order for that to happen…I get to see firsthand what this sport has done for kids in the UK and it’s too valuable just to be chucked away.”
In the letter, the Chicago Bulls guard also drew the Prime Minister’s attention to Sam Neter’s petition to Fund British Basketball which he has signed, and which we TCC would strongly urge you to sign, too.
GB Basketball’s appeal against the decision has also seen significant backing within the corridors of Westminster this week, with a Parliamentary debate last night, prompted by the MP for Chester and long-time Jets fan, Stephen Mosley, MP. In the discussion, a number of MPs strongly backed the campaign and sought clarification on basketball’s position from Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport.
Robertson, however, overtly backed UK Sport insisting that the funding system works. “Our elite performance system in this country is the envy of almost every other Olympic system in the world,” he added.
The Minister was somewhat critical, too, of basketball’s return at the London Olympics, as well as their administration. “They did only win one [Olympic pool match], which is not a great performance record I have to say for all the fact that they may be on fast improving pathway,” said Robertson.
He went on to say that “it is a sport that has the ability to reach into communities in a way that some other sports are unable to do, and yet it somehow fails constantly to just catch light … I think there have been in the past some weaknesses in the structure of the way the sport has been delivered.”
Robertson’s response to MPs last night was measured and in it he placed the onus firmly on GB Basketball’s new Chairman to look inward and address the weaknesses in governance that both he feels have led to a perceived under-achievement. He firmly insisted that basketball needs to “take a real hardnosed look at what needs to be done,” to “make use of those experts, in academia, in UK sport, and really turn this sport inside out.”
There is certainly a grain of truth in what Robertson had to say about the structures within basketball, however, his claims will be strongly mitigated at today’s hearing by the presence of the FIBA General Secretary Patrick Baumann who flew into London last night.
The head of the world federation has long been GB Basketball’s most critical assessor, having set a very high bar for the Team GB to overcome in a short space of time. Baumann shrank the goalposts several times in the lead-up to the London Olympics before feeling confident enough to allow British basketball to even take part in its home games, and now says “there is a good level of confidence at FIBA in GB Basketball.
Baumann’s support is perhaps the weightiest in GB’s case, and he has been critical of UK Sports backtracking on funding. “UK Sport gave quite clear indications to us that their support was to remain through to Rio in 2016,” he said.
In the lead up to the Olympics, GB Basketball had “complied with everything we have asked of them at FIBA” and “put their house in order,” according to Baumann, who added that “British Basketball have done more than their share of what they were supposed to do, that’s the reason why I feel strongly I want to support their appeal against a decision which for us which for us remains incomprehensible.”
The strong backing of such a substantial voice in world basketball makes it seem unlikely that GB Basketball will not have a strong enough case to get past today’s hearing at the least, and although the Hugh Robertson was supportive of the funding system in place, he did offer a glimmer of hope for Britain’s basketball fans.
“If they have got the terms of that appeal right, and many of the points made tonight will form part of that appeal, then it strikes me that they will have a case that is going to provoke some further thought,” he told The Commons last night.