Asking for UK Sport to fund American team sports at the elite level in the UK, is like asking for rain in a drought.
When the decision came through that GB Basketball were to have their remaining funding withdrawn, it may have come as a shock to many, but the fact is, history shows that, unfortunately, and despite the ever-growing talent pool and fan base in this country for American sports, it was on the cards.
British basketball fans, I draw your attentions to baseball and ice hockey.
Each of the three sports have had different circumstances to battle with – but the same common denominator remains; UK Sport’s determination to only stick with the gold rush.
BaseballSoftballUK had to swallow the bitter pill of losing their Olympic status for London 2012. No home games for them. A sickener, no matter what sport you play.
However, they still had a shot of representing on the biggest stage of them all, at international level, back in 2008.
The British baseball team was funded by UK Sport until 2005, the same year the sport was dropped from the Olympic schedule.
The British Olympic Association stepped in and acquired an Olympic solidarity grant of $100,000 (£50,000) from the IOC which funded the team through 2006 and 2007.
Spokesman for BaseballSoftballUK, Bob Fromer, said to the BBC at the time: “That money was used to play in the 2007 European Championships, where we finished second.
“And that result meant we qualified for the final Olympic qualifying tournament, along with seven other teams,” he went on to say.
However, the funds were almost up, and for a last chance needed another £40,000 for the one-off tournament in Taiwan.
“The BOA were sympathetic and tried to arrange another solidarity grant, but the IOC said no,” said Fromer.
They then turned to UK Sport as a last throw of the dice in order to make it to the tournament – but their request fell flat; not without a finger being pointed following on from the decision said Fromer.
“UK Sport turned us down in December (2007), for which they received criticism from (at the time Shadow Sports Minister) Hugh Robertson, who raised a question in parliament about the £30,000 UK Sport spent sending delegates to a conference on sporting legacy in Barbados.”
Ice hockey too has suffered.
Break it down – and Great Britain is only one of seven nations ever to have won an Olympic gold in ice hockey.
However, since Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne, it’s not exactly been a happy tale.
No representation at the Olympics since 1948 – compounded by the chaos throughout the 90s and early 2000s with the professional league in the UK – the state of ice hockey, and the ability to develop British players, will have played a major part in a decision being made in no UK Sport funding.
Despite this, and the thawing of relations amongst those involved in ice hockey in the UK, last year saw a real opportunity to reach the Winter Olympics for the first time in 66 years.
Just as for baseball a few years previous, the BOA applied for, and were successful in, securing a grant from the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Solidarity World Programme in 2012, which came in to effect in January 2013, a welcome help for GB Ice Hockey who were. Due to head in to a final Olympic qualification tournament.
The entire grant, given to Ice Hockey UK, was used to help cover expenses associated with team training camps, travel for competition and other costs associated with the ongoing effort to qualify for the Games.
Unfortunately, the journey to Sochi ended after this competition, but with the support of fans, and the increased media support of the Elite League, and also the added success of GB at the Winter Olympics, there is a glimmer, albeit the faintest of glimmers, that funding could be round the corner. However, development and getting out of World Championship Division I Group B next month is vital for that to become a reality if UK Sport’s criteria is anything to by.
Which then leads us on to British basketball.
We all know the ups and downs; the trials and tribulations of getting to the London Olympics, the fall out post-Olympics, and critically the battle with UK Sport to this present moment.
Sport England’s funding (which supports the game at grassroots) could have a knock on effect, and the BBL can be key to that, but basketball clearly has a base to develop from if the latest Active Sport Survey from Sport England is anything to go from.
Finally, if UK Sport think that not being to concerned whether we have a team representing Great Britain at the Olympics in basketball, then they should take another look at this piece I wrote prior to the GB-USA game in 2012 on Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul’s thoughts on turning Olympic competition to Under-23’s.
When NBA stars treasure Olympic gold medals, that says plenty – it’s not all about NBA championships; for some, to be an Olympian, full stop, means much more.
UK Sport, gold medal winners were kids once, they hoped, they dreamed, they reached their goals. Don’t steal away dreams – your funding is the final step for many athletes, whether that is in basketball, baseball or ice hockey.
Good luck GB Basketball – we’re right behind you!
Credit: FIBA Europe/Castoria Wiedensohler