British basketball is going through a defining phase just now, with a ‘funding crisis’ leading many to believe that Great British teams are on the verge of extinction at national level.
It was widely reported in February that a lack of funding from Basketball England, Scotland and Wales could seriously harm British basketball, with British basketballer Temi Fagbenle accusing UK Sport of trying to rip shirts off of GB teams’ backs.
The debate and crisis has resurfaced this month, shortly after Team GB’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Team GB failed to reach the second phase of qualifying for the 2019 tournament, losing to Israel 67-59.
Moments after the crushing defeat, forward Dan Clark read a statement, prepared before the match, surrounded by his team mates which accused Basketball England, Scotland and Wales of ‘setting national team shirts on fire’.
Kieron Achara, who has now surpassed 100 caps with Great Britain, gave the Falkirk Herald his verdict on the situation.
“The sport is too big to turn their backs on,” the 35-year-old said. “I believe that the situation will be resolved.”
The Falkirk Herald sat down with Falkirk Fury head coach John Bunyan to talk about the crisis.
Bunyan was less sympathetic towards Team GB, and believes that the story is more complex than many would like to think.
“There’s always two sides to a story, maybe even three or four when it comes to Great British basketball.
“The problem is in this country, you have a lot of factions and a lot of interests.
“I’m not 100% in agreement with what Dan Clark said in his statement.
“You can’t just disrespect the people that are producing these players.”
Bunyan believes that there are plenty of reasons for the individual basketball associations of Wales, England and Scotland to question GB Basketball and says that they are right to do so.
“Scotland, England and Wales have said ‘enough is enough’ in terms of funding.
“All three were contributing from their own pockets to help British basketball, and it should never have reached that stage.”
Whilst funding remains a big issue, Fury head coach Bunyan insisted that there needs to be links between grassroots basketball and the very top of the sport, and that it is important that everyone involved tin the sport ties in together.
“There needs to be proper pathways for what is not a minority sport. Basketball is the most played team sport in schools - certainly in Scotland. It’s massive down south too.
“You have to have a pathway, from development to a club to international.”
John knows what it takes to get right to the very top, having coached at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and understands the pathway is often difficult.
He doesn’t, though, see the route to the top becoming any more difficult for youngsters coming through.
“The only domino effect I see is the pathway.
“There is huge interest in the sport. We have 30 odd schools in our primary school league in Falkirk. It’s the most competitive in terms of primary school sport in the area.
“Clubs like us will support these people and that’s not going to fade away.”
With no team GB to aim for, it’s a worry for many that kids will have little to aspire to and aim for.
Kieron Achara, for example, is an inspiration to many local and grassroots basketball players, especially in the Falkirk area, but players could have little or no chance to emulate him in the future and play for Great Britain, if funding does cause it to fade away.
John doesn’t see this being a problem at all, and insisted that most players that do play at grassroots level don’t play with that in mind.
“The realistic side of it is - we have over 200 kids in the club - with the best will in the world our target is to have potentially three or four kids in each team looking to get into Scotland squads.
“For the last four, five or six years we have 20 international players a year at different levels. So that’s 10% of our programme.
“90% of people on our programme are not making the top level, yes they are aspiring to that and it’s great that there is a pathway, but the amount of people making the top level is very few.”
Basketball Scotland released a statement on Monday morning saying they won’t damage their own financial situation to help Great British basketball.