Leeds has a massive basketball community. It is home to West Yorkshire’s only professional club, Leeds Force, as well as Leeds Spiders Wheelchair Basketball Team and dozens of other local squads based all around the city that compete in local and national leagues.
Thousands of people in our community regularly play the sport – to say nothing of the hundreds of basketball fans, like myself, who get out to attend games and support our players on the court.
That’s why yesterday morning, I led a debate in Parliament on the future of basketball in the UK, following the decision taken by UK Sport to remove existing funding streams. Why do the cuts matter?
The British Basketball Federation (BBF) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) say the funding cuts will be hugely detrimental for players across the country at all levels, from our young hoop stars to the elites who compete in international tournaments like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
In fact, the cuts would put an end to England’s hopes for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, taking place in April. The BBF has announced it will run out of money completely in April as a result of the funding slash. The resulting collapse of the body would force FIBA to suspend Britain and the Home Countries from all international and European tournaments.
UK Sport insists the decisions to cut direct funding for basketball comes after national teams failed to gain medals in previous international competitions, including the 2016 Olympics. But I don’t think that’s good enough. Funding should not be solely dependent upon elite medal success. There must be fairer funding opportunities available, especially given the wide uptake of the sport and its popularity within BAME communities.
A vast range of issues were raised during the debate yesterday, by MPs in all parties, representing constituencies and squads all over the country. But 5 key things came out of the debate that government and the wider basketball community can do to boost our sport in the UK.
1. Find a short-term solution to the current crisis
We must urgently find a solution to the current funding crisis. It is absolutely unacceptable that our teams might not be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games in April. These players – in both the women’s and men’s teams – have been preparing for the tournament for years. If they cannot play because of UK Sport’s decision to cut the BBF’s funding, all those hours of training will have been for nothing.
And it’s not just the Commonwealth Games that are at stake. For the GB Senior Men to fulfil the FIBA World Cup qualifying window in time, it needs to raise at least £70,000.
I hope that the government recognises the significance of this issue and supports the BBF to find a solution.
2. Push for 3×3 funding
3×3 basketball has recently been accepted into the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. With that in mind, I called yesterday for an urgent review into the potential for funding for 3×3 at an elite level.
I want the Minister to intervene and recommend that UK Sport undertakes an urgent review of 3×3. I want funding to be made available for a development programme for a 3×3 squad for Tokyo.
In her response to the debate, Tracey Crouch MP, Minister for Sport, stated that she will investigate further opportunities for funding 3×3 basketball, which was welcomed by everyone in the room.
3. Call for a review into UK Sport’s elite funding policy
Recently, The Times reported that UK Sport has plans to review its existing policy on elite sports funding. The existing policy means that the body will only fund sports which have strong potential to win Olympic medals. While I understand this reasoning, I don’t think it can be justified given the huge participation rates of basketball compared to other sports that receive much greater levels of funding.
Over 1 million Britons play basketball once a month. Amongst 11-15-year-olds, basketball is now the second most popular team sport, after football. Basketball also attracts players from a wide diversity of backgrounds. More than half (58%) of the sport’s adult participants are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. At the professional and elite level, 75% of Men’s Senior, 85% of Men’s U20 and 46% of Women’s Senior players are from BAME backgrounds.
Sports such as hockey and rugby league, which receive millions of pounds in funding from UK Sport, do not have such a wide or representative participant base. More British people play basketball each month than play hockey and rugby league combined. Despite this, hockey has received £28.1 million and rugby league has received £51.6 million in public funds since 2009.
Clearly, the criteria for funding elite sports through UK Sport needs to change to be better reflect the interests of players across the country.
4. Develop mechanisms for raising commercial income in basketball
It’s no secret that basketball continues to struggle to generate private and commercial income, especially compared to other sports. This concern was raised by a number of MPs during the debate, and I agree that we must support clubs locally, as well as national squads, to enhance mechanisms for raising commercial income in basketball, ensuring it is financially sustainable in the future.
5. Work with broadcasters to improve coverage of basketball
Our national team, Team GB, games are not currently broadcasted by any leading channels and sports media outlets. The basketball community and government must work with broadcasters, including the BBC, to develop opportunities to monetise the broadcasting and enhance commercial sponsorship of squads which other European Countries do much more successfully than the UK. I recognise that this is not the solution we need to overcome the funding crisis our national teams are facing right now, but is something we must look towards to ensure the sport is sustainable in the future, and continues to reach new and diverse audiences.