By Justin Cheuk
The prospect of basketball development in Britain was dealt a severe blow when UK Sport announced earlier in the month that it is to withdraw its entire funding for British basketball, arguing that it has little chance of medal success in the next two Olympic Games.
Liz Nicholl, the chief executive of UK sport, said to support basketball in this way “would be a high risk strategy that compromises opportunities elsewhere”.
The reaction of the basketball community in the country is one of disbelief. The captain of the British men’s team, Drew Sullivan, has taken to Twitter to call the decision “simply ludicrous” while Roger Moreland, the chief executive of British Basketball, called the decision “depressing”.
A statement from the governing body went further to claim that they have been “abandoned” by UK Sport, and later announced that it will appeal against this decision.
Last year, UK Sport also withdrew basketball funding but reversed the decision following an appeal.
In many respects, UK Sport has a valid point; the Great Britain basketball team has never even competed in an Olympic games not held in London, and it would be far-fetched to see any medal, let alone gold, in the upcoming Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo Olympics for even the most optimistic basketball followers.
Despite limited medal hopes in the next two Olympics, however, many continue to believe that the funding for basketball should not be withdrawn.
The sport in Britain is in the midst of a meteoric rise and so much can be expected in the future. To withdraw funding now would be a short-sighted move and would abandon the Olympic legacy.
Statistics from British Basketball suggests that over 217,900 people play the sport at least once a week, and National Basketball Association (NBA), considered the best league in the world, has targeted the UK for expansion due to this popularity.
The NBA also hosts a regular season game at the O2 Arena, featuring Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets in the 2014 edition, and, while neither are serious championship contenders, the game was sold out within four hours.
In addition, the long-neglected British Basketball League (BBL) is in the midst of expansion and move towards professionalism.
The twelve-strong league now stretches from Plymouth to Glasgow, and selected games are now broadcast on the Eurosport network.
Recently, they have also announced that the 2015 championship game will be played at the O2 Arena due to surging interest.
The continued development of the BBL can only serve to prompt more interest in basketball and provide more options for a professional career for our budding talent.
More importantly, its social effects should not be underestimated: 70% of the participants are under the age of 25, and around 50% of those that play basketball come from black and minority ethnic communities.
As an urban sport, basketball has been successful in turning youths away from crime; combining this with its relatively inexpensive equipment and the fact that it is largely unaffected by the weather, it is an excellent sport to promote in schools.
Contrasting this with canoeing, whose participant count is 45,700 but will receive £20 million in funding, one would have to question whether Olympic medals are the only determinant in sports promotion.
In addition, if team GB continues to improve at its current rate, European or even World competitiveness is not an implausible dream.
Only formed in preparation for London 2012, team GB has already qualified for three straight Eurobaskets, the premier basketball tournament in Europe, and is well on course to qualify again for the 2015 edition in Ukraine.
The team boasts four active NBA players of which two were raised in the UK: Luol Deng of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a two-time NBA All-Star small forward raised in south London, and the Farnham-born Joel Freeland, a centre of the Portland Trailblazers.
The other two, Ben Gordon and Byron Mullens, were raised in the US but qualified through birth or parentage.
Britain has already produced some of the very best players in the world, and with youth participation increasing, there are certainly more to come.
The competitive record of the GB team is also highly encouraging. Ranked a lowly 43rd before London 2012, team GB shocked everybody by coming within one point of defeating eventual silver-medallists Spain, and recorded their second ever Olympic victory against the Asian champions, China.
Moreover, GB equalled their best result ever (thirteenth) without any of their NBA players in the most recent Eurobasket.
This is concrete evidence showing the marked improvement of GB basketball and the exciting future it promises.
The withdrawal of funding could be detrimental to all the progress that has already been made.
As Team GB’s performance in curling at the recent Winter Olympics has demonstrated, participation in major tournaments is vital in promoting lesser-known sports.
Yet, a direct consequence of losing funding is the difficulty to finance insurance for the NBA stars, a prerequisite for their commitment.
Not qualifying for major tournaments in this way would be a disaster for basketball in Britain, and potentially undo all the important progress this country has made in the sport.
That is why many are calling for UK sport to reconsider their decision.
Photographs: Neil Peach, Twitter (@drewsullivan8)