The Great Basketball Swindle

GB Men at the 2012 Olympics

Introduction

It is with sadness that I find myself writing this blog about the “Great Basketball Swindle” which has seen basketball in Great Britain gradually become swept under the carpet, and now seems to be regarded by many in authority to be a second rate sport.

Back in November 2013 I was really excited to be taken on as the Digital Communications Manager at GB Basketball.  Basketball was a sport I knew nothing about at the time, but what I did know was that it had a great image, was popular all over the world and was especially strong in the inner cities.

Having spent much of my time in previous professional roles trying to create more of, and better opportunities for people to participate in sport at grass roots level, it was a welcome change to be focusing on those at the elite end of the spectrum.

To begin with I was in awe of many of the GB Players, who in general had gone through the UK system and were now playing for some of the top clubs in the world. But as each week progressed and I researched each player to write a weekly update for the website, I felt as if I got to know them and to some extent understood their motivations and what made them tick.

Role Models

The link between grass roots, club, college, county, national and international became clearer and clearer the more research and writing I did. In all it’s estimated that about 350,000 people in the UK play basketball at least once a week, but of course we know only very few of these will ever make it through to the elite ranks.

However as is usual with all sport, most of those who play, aspire to be the best they can be, and perhaps move up to the next level.  We often talk about role models in sport, and basketball in the UK has many. To name but a few, Luol Deng, Andrew Sullivan, Stef Collins and Johannah Leedham.

Luol Deng is a great example of a role model and has an interesting story too. Born in Wau, Sudan (now South Sudan) he is a member of the Dinka ethnic group. As a young boy he moved with his family to Egypt to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War. In Egypt, he met former NBA center Manute Bol, another Dinka, who taught Deng’s older brother, Ajou Deng, how to play basketball while also serving as a mentor for Luol himself. When they were granted political asylum, his family emigrated to Brixton, South London.

While living in Brixton he played for Brixton Basketball Club. He was spotted at the London Youth Games, and progressed to play for England and Great Britain. Deng went to college in the U.S and subsequently went on to play for NBA Teams Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. It is estimated that he now has a Net Worth of $30 million, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots and through his foundation, he recently launched a basketball academy in South London.

Zero funding awarded

Great Britain Basketball who manage the elite teams are funded by UK Sport. On February 4th 2014 I travelled down to London to hear UK Sports decision on whether they would continue to fund Basketball. As I entered the office at 10 am it felt as if someone had died, the room was in silence.  I said “You know don’t you?” the reply came back “Yes we got zero funding”, I didn’t know what to say.  The announcement was embargoed until 2 pm so we had until then to prepare our responses to the public and the sporting world.

The reason given for “Zero” funding was that Basketball had not hit it’s performance targets and that they did not have a realistic chance of a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This may have been the case but was removing all funding the right thing to do?

We decided to focus on all the progress GB Basketball had made in the last few years, and developed the “achievements campaign” to try and turn the tide, reverse the decision and perhaps even change the criteria applied to funding.

At 2 pm there was a media frenzy, the Performance Chairman Roger Moreland had 14 interviews that day across London with journalists eager to get his reaction, which was disappointment, frustration and anger.  The main point he made was that “Team Sports” were being treated unfairly by the funding system, it was much harder to reach the top level in a sport which is played all over the world, and where a whole team has to perform. If sports like basketball in the UK were ever going to achieve an Olympic medal, funding could not be turned on and off. The current focus on medals was not in the best interests of sport in this country.

Performance Chairman Roger Moreland’s reaction

Social Media campaign

So with this as a background we set about launching a social media campaign #nolegacy4bball, a hashtag which represented how we felt.  The 2012 Olympics has been hosted with a focus on legacy, we now felt that basketballs legacy had been killed off, how would this effect young people just starting out. No National Teams to aspire to, no more role models, no aspirations to go to the next level (which was gone) and therefore NO LEGACY!

We focused our campaign on these achievements:

  1. Two GB Players nominated for FIBA Europe Player of the Year
  2. In the 2012 Olympics GB Men lost by 1 point 79-78 to Spain who went on to win Silver
  3. In the 2012 Olympics GB Women lost in overtime to France who went on to win Silver
  4. Both GB Teams now ranked in top 25 in the world compared to 75 plus in 2008
  5. GB Under 20 and England Under 18 teams now play in FIBA Division A
  6. In recent years 6 British players have been nominated for European Championship teams, including one MVP
  7. Basketball is the second biggest team sport after football in the UK.
  8. British players are now the 3rd highest group outside the USA playing in the NCAA Division 1 (55 Players)

#Nolegacy4ball

The campaign was a great success to in terms of raising the issues and challenging the current system, the #nolegacy4bball achieved 3.5 million timeline deliveries on Twitter in an eight week period.

Unfortunately all of our efforts were in vain and at the UK Sport appeal on March 19th GB Basketball were once again told they would receive no funding.  Not long after this myself and colleagues were informed our services would no longer be required, and ‘shell shocked’ basketball administrators began to explore other funding possibilities and to decide which teams could be run and which could not.  To date no solution has been found and many of the GB Teams futures are in question.

I genuinely  hope a solution can be found and that UK Sport will rethink it’s ‘Medal focused’ funding strategy in exchange for a more long term approach. If not the 2012 Legacy for basketball in the UK may be lost forever, thousands of children may never step on court and basketball will be something that happens on the TV.

Below in chronological order is a list of the articles which I wrote for GB Basketball

  1. GB’S DOMINIQUE ALLEN LEADS FRENCH CLUB COB CALAIS TO LF2 FINAL FOUR
  2. GB’S RACHAEL VANDERWAL LEADS UL HUSKIES TO IRISH PREMIER LEAGUE FINAL
  3. GB’S STEPH GANDY TOP SCORES AS HATTERS SECURE 19TH ENGLAND BASKETBALL DIVISION 1 TITLE
  4. SEASON-HIGH POINTS SCORING AND REBOUNDING FOR GB’S TEMI FAGBENLE
  5. GB’S RACHAEL VANDERWAL LEADS UNIVERSITY OF LIMERICK TO FOURTH LEAGUE TITLE
  6. CAREER HIGH 23 POINTS FOR GB’S ELLA CLARK IN NCAA
  7. GB TRIO DOMINATE FOR SHEFFIELD HATTERS
  8. CUP FINAL DOUBLE-DOUBLE FROM GB’S STEF COLLINS NOT ENOUGH TO STOP TEAM NORTHUMBRIA
  9. SHEFFIELD HATTERS STAY TOP WITH GB PLAYERS OUT IN FORCE
  10. WILDCATS WIN BIG AT BETTY CODONA CLASSIC
  11. FIFTH STRAIGHT DOUBLE-DOUBLE FOR GB’S TEMI FAGBENLE
  12. GB’S STEPH GANDY DOMINATES IN HATTERS VICTORY OVER RIDERS!
  13. THIRTY POINTS FOR VANDERWAL AS HUSKIES TOP PREMIER LEAGUE
  14. FOURTH DOUBLE-DOUBLE FOR TEMI FAGBENLE
  15. SPOTLIGHT ON GB SENIOR WOMEN
  16. GB PLAYERS HOME AND AWAY – WEEKEND ROUND-UP

 

Update: 6th November 2014

Seven months after withdrawing funding, and with continued pressure from organisations such as GB Basketball, UK Sport reinstated funding to the tune of £1.18 million.  This followed a full review and consultation. This is a great result for British Basketball and many other sports and an acknowledgement that the previous funding criteria was flawed, if it was to encourage long term growth of team sports such as Basketball.

Here is a link to the story on the Great Britain Basketball website.