A game gone to blazers and Pot Noodles - Sport - The Independent

A game gone to blazers and Pot Noodles

SO you think rugby union is in a mess. If the blazers from the Rugby Football Union and the assorted millionaire owners of the leading clubs have found themselves in a bit of pickle over - pardon the mixed culinary metaphor - that old chestnut of club v country, they should shoot a glance at a sport brought to the verge of international anarchy by a menu of Pot Noodles and Penguin bars.

The title of worst-run sport inBritain has been hotly contested for a century, pretty well since the codification of rules by the Victorians encouraged the emergence of the ubiquitous sporting species known as Homo Committeens, but it is mildly disturbing to find the accolade bestowed by one of its own players on a sport which has been tipped for explosion in this country for the past decade or more and for global domination into the next millennium.

In the USA, the commercial success of the NBA has been a tribute not just to the universal pulling power of basketball, but to the financial vision and drive of the game's administrators. Not that long ago, basketball was bumping along without purpose or leadership. Now, every seat in almost every arena is sold and Michael Jordan tops the league of US sporting earners. Its influence can be felt at the heart of the West Indian cricket team. In a bid to promote the game - and the sale of Chicago Bulls vests - in Britain, the NBA have moved their European office from Geneva to London, only to run up against the knotty problems which have affected every imported American sport from ice hockey to American football.

In basketball terms, Britain is proving a tough nut to crack. In small halls and sports centres up and down the land, the game's popularity is unquestioned. One of the five public tennis courts in my local park in Surrey has suddenly sprouted bright red and blue basketball hoops, the product of the Outdoor Basketball Initiative funded by the National Lottery to the tune of pounds 6m. For PE teachers, basketball is heaven sent, a game of enormous simplicity, instant action and great street cred. A boatload of energy can be crammed into the narrow confines of a basketball court and the only requirements for spectators are a short attention span and the ability to count to 100.

In America, that appeal has been magicked into television rights of $2.64billion for the next three years. So it was perhaps understandable that John Amaechi, recently of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Steve Bucknall, once of the Lakers, two members of the England team, should wonder out loud if the provision of Pot Noodles, Penguins, Trios - compensation for inedible local grub - and an expenses budget of pounds 15 a day should be adequate reward for national service to the English Basketball Association on a recent trip to Belarus for a European Championship qualifying game. "It is not a matter of money," Amaechi said. "We do wonder whether the commitment we give to the EBBA is equalled by their commitment to us."

To add to the farce, Roger Huggins, a veteran international, was detained at the Lithuanian border on his way back to Belgium for his son's first birthday because he did not have a visa the EBBA allegedly said he did not need. Huggins was returned to the team's camp in Belarus, missed the birthday and, as a protest, sat out the team's next game against Israel in Manchester. The team could not even afford to take a qualified doctor on its travels. A case of more bust than boom.

Lazlo Nemeth, the head coach, voiced his dismay at the incompetence of the organisation. "I am mad after four years of constant lies," he said. On Thursday, he was suspended by the EBBA executive board pending a final decision on his future on 14 March. If the popular Hungarian goes, most of the senior members of the team, including Amaechi, Huggins and Bucknall, have indicated they will retire from international basketball in sympathy. It's a shambles, a sad reflection, say the players, of years of administrative neglect and old-boy inertia. The sadness for the long-term future of the game is that the EBBA were expecting to hear that their 10-year performance plan to lift the national teams into the top five in Europe, requiring pounds 1m a year, had been rejected. The bad publicity did not help.

This is not the place for another analysis of basketball's vicious circle. The pro league bobs along merrily without showing signs of the progress at last being enjoyed by ice hockey, that other "boom around the corner" product. Crowds are small and the foreigner v homegrown boy debate is no nearer solution. Frustrated by a career cul-de-sac, many talented young players turn to other sports which can offer more support. A future in the NBA, even such lucrative havens as Greece and Italy, is no more than a pipedream. No one can seriously make a decent living playing basketball in Britain and no self-respecting kid will waste the entrance fee to a national league game when he can see the real thing on his widescreen television every week.

Basketball is not the only minority sport being squeezed breathless in the increasingly competitive scrap for Lottery funding. In the click of a lottery ball, the atmosphere has changed. No longer can the blazers humph and grumph in smoke-filled committee rooms safely nursing their Sports Council grants alongside the gin and tonics.

The climate of glorious amateurism has changed, though you might not believe it the way rugby is besporting itself. Lottery funding comes at a price and somewhere between now and the end of Sydney 2000 must be translated into the language the average Lottery funder can understand. Under the elite performance programmes at present being dotted and crossed in offices up and down the country, only medals will count. Olympic first and foremost, world championships next, Commonwealth Games next. Those sports who cannot hope to produce medals are being sidelined as dear old England heads towards a brutal elitism which would have been easily understood in the corridors of the East German sporting system circa 1980.

I have heard the same message from two head coaches now, one in rowing, one from cycling. Hang the notion of "Sport for all", so assiduously peddled by the Sports Council through the Eighties; sports have two years to produce medallists or the cash dispenser will be closed. Elitism is in and sports like basketball, which exists on a grant of pounds 300,000 a year from the Sports Council and an assortment of sponsorships and memberships fees to finance a budget of pounds 1m, will have to put out the begging bowl. The Government wants medals now, not a series of IOU notes, cashable in 10 years' time. And if that means changing training programmes to suit the potential medallists, the rest will have to lump it. The days of the blazer brigade are numbered; the old lady with pounds 1 coin and a Lottery card full of her grandchildren's birthdates is now running sport and she demands a handsome return on her investment. Sport's losers will have to exist on a diet of Penguin bars and Pot Noodles.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher

£110 - £125 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randsta...

Year 2 Teacher and Group Lead

£110 - £125 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randsta...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Teaching Assistants urgently r...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:We are looking for a ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week