sport

NBA stars arrive amid GB gloom

The NBA will shine basketball's spotlight on London on Thursday night with the game in the UK in disarray.

The British game is still reeling from UK Sport's decision to end its funding following the Olympics.

When the New York Knicks take on the Detroit Pistons, the O2 Arena seats will be full, but British Basketball has found the cupboard bare when it comes to funding ahead of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

UK Sport's announcement in December that basketball would receive nothing over the next four years - compared to 8.6million in the lead up to the London Games - left officials shocked and completely undermined the optimism that had existed about the sport's development here.

In six short years before the Olympics, Britain formed a team from the home nations and rose from the game's backwaters to qualify for two consecutive European Championships on merit.

But that progress was not enough to convince UK Sport the sport was worth further funding, with the government body looking only at the failure to medal in London before cutting off the cash.

The decision stood at odds with all the optimism that had come not only from British Basketball but also the NBA and world governing body FIBA about the sport's potential in this country.

British Basketball chairman Roger Moreland said: "It was almost like, after JFK said in 1960, 'We're going to put a man on the moon and bring him back to earth safely', you send up Apollo 8, orbit around the moon and then decide you'll not bother anymore.

"That's the extent of the progress we had made in six years and that's the type of impact this will have."

If the goal of London 2012 was supposed to be about inspiring a generation, basketball and the other team sports would seem an ideal vehicle, but that is not the response they have found with funding also abolished for the likes of handball and volleyball.

"Inspiring a generation has been replaced by a lust for medals," Moreland said.

Not all is doom and gloom as British Basketball plan a vigorous appeal, with the chance to make their case directly to the UK Sport due to come on January 30.

They have plenty to say not only about the rapid rise of the British teams and the potential rewards of continuing that development through 2020 and beyond, but also about the popularity of the sport among youngsters in this country, particularly in inner cities.

"There are a whole host of different elements to this," Moreland said.

"Media interest in the sport is growing, Britain is now a venue for major basketball events, and the number of people playing the game - particularly young people - will grow in the future with the plans we have in place.

"But what we need to be able to do is continue progress at national team level and take our place at the top table of the sport."

Plenty have spoken out in support of basketball's case.

Sir Clive Woodward, who served as director of elite performance for the British Olympic Association during the London Games, described the decision to cut off team sports funding as "baffling" and called for longer-term thinking.

FIBA general secretary Patrick Baumann plans to personally attend British Basketball's appeal hearing at the end of the month, arguing that the decision ruins all the hard work done in the build-up to the Olympics.

"It would be a waste of resources and time," he said. "Whether you can recover from a blow like this depends on how quickly you can refinance yourselves, but in this climate it is very difficult to do."

FIBA only granted Britain a place in the Games as host nation after they met strict criteria, and based on their clear program to build a long-term legacy, and while Baumann stopped short of saying he now felt lied to, he admitted he was "very frustrated" that UK Sport was no longer interested.

"We've kept our part of the bargain, not only the basketball family internationally but also the basketball family in the UK," he said. "It's a pity the authorities don't believe in the promise of the sport even though they have seen the statistics."

Now British Basketball can only hope for a reprieve. While chief sponsor Standard Life continues to offer support, the rest of the federation's budget is an open question.

That means their search for a new men's team coach is on hold, as is planning for the summer's EuroBaskets, in which the women compete in June and the men in September.

But the mood remains defiant.

"The British game is certainly not dead," Moreland said. "You look at the NBA coming here, the Euroleague finals will be here in May, and we had a crowd of 7,500 at the BBL Cup final on Sunday.

"Basketball is still in a good position to appeal to families and young people, and the product we've got is still a very good one.

"But we need a flagship national team at the forefront of it."