If you’re one of the thousands of kids with Olympic hoop dreams it looks like you’ll have to cancel them. Basketball has again been stripped of its elite funding.
Hoops have popped up on playgrounds all over the Britain. And wherever they are you’ll likely see multi-racial groups of kids trying to emulate LeBron James and the other stars of the America’s National Basketball Association.
But sadly it seems that this is not enough
The more talented among those kids will have to seek alternatives if they want to pursue Olympic ambitions, unless they can find a way to get in front of scouts from American universities.
Like, perhaps, sailing. Or maybe rowing.
Here’s the problem. There aren’t many sailing or rowing clubs in inner-city Britain, where much of the best young basketball talent is to be found.
These are, for better or for worse, middle-class sports, that tend to be taken up by kids in comparatively well-to-do areas. You need specialist equipment to get involved. It’s true that you might not have to buy it, but hiring still costs money - certainly a lot more money than the price of a basketball which you can throw at a free hoop.
If the kids who can afford to get in at ground level prove to have elite potential then they can get funding to carry on with their sports. The sort of kids who shoot hoops for fun are left out. Does that seem right?
Look, this should not be seen as an attack on those sports. Far from it. I’m not here to decry our promising sailors or rowers. I also think that it’s great that they provide us with so many golds come Games time. I watched both sports on the highlights, and sometimes on live TV, at the last Games and I’ll do so again. Like much of the rest of country I’ll loudly cheer the participants from Team GB on.
I don’t even blame UK Sport for concentrating its resources on those sports where we stand the best chance of winning (the poor chance of medalling led to basketball’s defenestration). The supply of money is not limitless and, as a result, it makes sense to play to our strengths.
The proof of that pudding is in the eating. From the dismal single gold medal in Atlanta, the count jumped to 11 in Sydney, slipped back to 9 in Athens, before leaping to 19 in Beijing, followed by a bravura 29 in London.
Basketball was always going to struggle to be part of that tally, or of future tallies if we’re honest. The US is utterly dominant (although they have been shocked in the past) and battling for silver and bronze are a host other nations with established and competitive leagues that attract decent crowds. By contrast we’re a poor relation.
It’s also a team sport with just one set of men’s and one set of women’s medals and team sports are expensive to fund by comparison to individual events.
But there are still very good reasons for making basketball a special case. Many of the kids who play won’t have much opportunity to get involved in sport beyond it and the ever-ubiquitous football. Don’t they deserve inspiration?
Is it worth pointing out here that much of UK Sport’s funding comes from the National Lottery, whose tickets are more likely to be bought by those kids’ parents as opposed to the parents of kids who sail, or row?
I declare an interest here. I love basketball, and play the wheelchair version, which still gets funding for the Paralympics, where there is the prospect of success at the Rio games.
So those with of us with disabilities (wheelchair basketball is open to all but not at elite level) are okay but our able bodied cousins are on the outside looking in. That’s not something you can say very often.
All the same, UK Sport’s decision is wrong and it needs to think again, because less fortunate kids should have a shot at Olympic funding too. It’s called Sport for All. Remember that?