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Cash cut a blow to Olympic dream but won’t stop London Lions’ bid to boost basketball

18:01 14 February 2014

London Lions head coach Vince Macaulay.

London Lions head coach Vince Macaulay.

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Vince Macaulay admits that last week’s decision by UK Sport to cut all basketball funding is a “big blow” to the Olympic dream but says it won’t deter London Lions from developing the game in the city.

The move of the British Basketball League outfit into London 2012 venue the Copper Box signalled a key boost for the Games’ legacy plan.

Somewhat overshadowed by last week’s funding news was the British Basketball League’s announcement that next year’s play-off final will move from the 12,500 capacity Wembley Arena to The O2 with an expected 17,000 seats.

Basketball was one of several sports to lose funding after UK Sport’s latest review, along with synchronised swimming, water polo and weightlifting.

Several sports were given an increase in funding with the big winner being triathlon, whose money went up from £5.5million to £7.5million, a 36 per cent increase. Others with increased funding include canoeing, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, judo, sailing, shooting and taekwondo.

Lions head coach and chief executive Macaulay said: “I can’t blame UK Sport if their remit is to only fund for medals.

“Basketball is the second biggest sport in the world and the second biggest in England and we’ve got tons and tons of people playing at the bottom end.

“The key is, within the criteria that UK Sports has, how do you get a team sport in a position to win a medal?

“That’s what they’ve got to look at; they’ve got to find a way in which a developmental team sport doesn’t get canned by not being individual and only having one medal to chase.

“The big thing with what we’re doing at the London Lions is that we want to show young people that basketball is a career path for young people.

“If the Olympic dream is taken away then that’s a big blow and we need to get that back.”

Next year’s up-scaling of the BBL’s end-of-season showpiece to the larger O2 Arena highlights the growth of basketball at elite club level in the country, while London Lions are heavily involved in developing the game at grass roots level across the capital.

Last month the club’s key partners Reach & Teach received in principle an agreement from up to £418,000 of funding to extend their network of basketball programmes across London.

That was in addition of up to £1.9million of additional Sport England funding awarded to the BBL Foundation.

Macaulay said: “The game is growing hand over fist, not just here in London with our new facility, but Worcester has just opened a new one, Glasgow are playing at the Commonwealth facility and teams are advancing really fast.

“The BBL has consistently sold out play-offs and cup finals and they O2 was the obvious place to go.

“This isn’t an upper-class sport, it’s a sport of the masses and eventually the suits up top will have to realise that the majority of people are playing this game.

“They show the passion that we see in Israel, Turkey, Greece and places like that. Eventually they won’t be able to ignore it and that’s the fact of the matter.”

This week the House of Lords’ Olympic legacy committee criticised UK Sport for having an “inherent bias” against team sports.

Committee chairman Lord Harris of Haringey also said he was disappointed at the Government’s response to his previous report stating there was little evidence of a post-Games rise in sports participation.

British Basketball have also announced it is to challenge the funding decision. It will start by trying to secure a reprieve by making representations to the UK Sport board. A formal appeal is also possible if that proves to be unsuccessful.

Macaulay said: “I don’t think it [UK Sport’s decision] will be overturned unless they change the criteria for which they fund.

“Talent-wise and ability-wise we are right there with France and they are the European champions, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do the same.”

On Lions’ involvement with developing basketball across the city, Macaulay said: “We are keen to partner with the local clubs in London, develop new community hub clubs around the city and we just want youngsters to understand that, irrespective of where they’re playing basketball in London, the Lions are relevant to them.

“Through reach and teach, we are looking at key memberships in basketball where you can join the Lions and be part of what we do.

“That will grow the foundation again and that is what it is for, in conjunction with the Mayor of London.

“We’ve got to show that, not only is the career path there, but also that we focus on education. We are the only sport, really, that uses education as a clear pathway, through our academy structures and our partnerships with universities.

“We believe that education is absolutely paramount and we operate and ‘no pass no play’ policy, so it’s important that our youngsters come along and maintain that development.

“If you can go to the States, great, good on you. If you can’t, you can still get an education and play the sport at the highest level.”

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