British basketball had its budget cut ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, and then again post-Games. Why does Britain’s second-most played sport, which this year alone has seen a 15% increase in participation among young people, struggle so for funding?
Former Team GB men’s captain Kieron Achara believes the issue lies off-court: “The only logical explanation that I can give is that there is a subconscious bias against basketball and specifically the demographic that basketball represents.” That ‘demographic’ is the Black population, who in the UK make up 70% of professional basketball and 55% of the sport as a whole.
Antonio Deogratias, who now plays his professional basketball in Spain, agrees, highlighting a case where he and his GB U23 teammates had to pay out of pocket to travel to a tournament by ferry, despite “under-14 and under-16 rugby teams” receiving full support to fly.
Deogratias views Britain’s treatment of basketball as a second-class sport as a “societal effort to undermine the Black population.” This undermining begins at a grass roots level in majority Black communities where players like Deogratias are nurtured.
Deogratias was heavily involved in community work whilst playing for the now-dissolved Leeds Force in the British Basketball League (BBL), and he is still an active ambassador for Let’s Do More, a programme that as he told the Gazette last week, “allows basketball to spread positivity and allows kids to develop their game as a basketball player and also become a better person.”
For him, basketball was a “way out” and an opportunity to show children from his area that there are positive opportunities out there for people that look like them. This is why Black British sport must matter too, for the impact its athletes can have outside sport.
Professional Game Fights For Survival
BBL chair Sir Rodney Walker points out that the BBL “don’t have major sponsors” and rely on “playing in front of a paying audience”, which is self-evidently impossible during the ongoing pandemic. However, if the sport is not visible and accessible, then it is hard to see how it will ever produce the support needed to attract sponsors.
The BBL called upon the Government for a £1 million rescue loan but this was rejected even as, for example, rugby league received emergency funding of £16 million. Walker and the league explicitly cited basketball’s popularity in Britain’s Black communities when urging the Government to reconsider, and the sport is now set to receive at least enough funding to underwrite lost gate receipts and get the new season started.
The extraordinary work of Marcus Rashford has shown the impact that Black British athletes can have on society when provided the platform. Platforms like Let’s Do More pale in comparison in terms of reach, but there may be hope on the horizon.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) have announced that, with some Government support now assured, the BBL season will commence on 30 October. Sport England have also spoken of their commitment to British basketball in the present and future, in light of the global recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here’s hoping that this recent surge in Government support can inspire the next generation into actualising the statement ‘Black British Sport Matters’.