Last night I had the great fortune to stumble onto the BBC Parliament channel just in time for a much earlier than usual adjournment debate, which what dealing with the recent funding settlement for Basketball in the UK.
Like other sports (wrestling, table tennis and handball) basketball has had its elite funding from UK Sport cut to £0 in the wake of the London 2012 games. The reasons given for the drastic cut in funding being that there is no prospect of qualifying for the 2016 tournament in Rio and no chance of winning a medal in 2020, wherever that might be.
There is going to be some funding available for the grass roots of the game, but with only £6.8 million available it represents just £12 a head for people who are playing basketball on a weekly basis, with no mention of attracting people to the game or the development of talent once spotted. To put that into context cycling is the best funded Olympic sport, receiving over £30 million has 500,000 in its performance base. That’s how you build for the future, looking for people to bring into the elite programmes and then funding them adequately when they arrive there.
Although I can understand that it isn't possible to give every sport the level of funding they might wish to have, it does seem strange to cut off the support given to basketball, which has some special features not shared by the other sports.
Although the men and women played a combined ten games in London and won only once (the men beating China when both sides were out) there were several reasons to take heart. The men were only beaten by five points by Brazil and a single point by Spain. While not winning any games, the women did come close to beating France (losing by three after extra time) Russia (losing by six) and Canada (losing by eight). Compare that to the record of other sports that haven’t totally had their funding cut. Archery and badminton both failed to produce anyone coming even close to a medal, but they will still receive a combined £9 million for the Rio cycle. Fencing saw a pretty abysmal performance at the ExCeL Arena but has seen its funding increased to £3.1 million.
Basketball isn't just about the sport in the arenas though. It’s about what can be done in urban areas with people who don’t want to play other sports. It’s big among the black and minority ethnic community who can feel that football isn't an option for them. It appeals to those who may otherwise be doing things which could land them in trouble. In short it is a great way to build community links, bring people together and maybe even make society a bit of a better place. That might not be recognised in the Olympic medal table, but the more people who play the sport the greater the chance of finding the next Team GB players. Maybe even in time for Rio qualification, which is within the reach of the GB team through the European zone, regardless of what UK Sport says.
There is one comforting fact for those of us who want to see a strong Team GB basketball side in the future. After the Athens game in 2004 the funding awarded to gymnastics was slashed, admit many of the same complaints we hear now from the basketball community. The sport went away and decided how it was going to get itself back on track, and ended up as one of the biggest surprise packages of 2012, winning a sliver and three bronzes.
That gymnastics was able to stay in the public consciousness was thanks in no small part to Beth Tweddle, who kept performing well and forcing a largely uninterested public to take note. Basketball has its equivalent in Luol Deng who plays for Chicago in the NBA. He has written to David Cameron urging him to restore the funding for the sport. While he obviously doesn't need it himself, he can win games alone, as was proven last year.
You can read the full letter Deng sent to Cameron here (warning, Daily Mail website) and read the debate from Parliament here.