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EDITIONS
Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
John Amaechi, Basketball player
Basketball player, John Amaechi
Basketball player, John Amaechi
HOSTED BY HUW EDWARDS
INTERVIEW:
JOHN AMAECHI, BASKETBALL PLAYER
AUGUST 18TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

HUW EDWARDS:
Now the power of sport as a good social influence is again underlined. The Manchester United team of course got together to make an appeal for information about Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Over in Korea - north and south - they put aside their difference and agreed an historic game of football against each other which made headlines. Football's governing body, FIFA, set out plans to run a football programme for Afghanistan. And Britain's only NBA superstar, John Amaechi, opened a basketball centre for children in Manchester, funded entirely with his own money.

John was pretty famous for being the highest earning British sportsman is with me now. I'm very pleased to say a warm welcome to John.

Tell us about Manchester first of all, why you decided to put a lot of money into this basketball centre and why Manchester?

JOHN AMAECHI:
Well, fundamentally Manchester is my home. It's where I grew up, it's where I learnt my basketball. It's where I'm comfortable. And the basketball centre was because basketball gave me a great start in life. It gave me a lot of things besides the lifestyle that I enjoy now. My personality wouldn't be the same. I wouldn't have travelled so widely. So many gifts that I've gained from basketball and this is my way of perhaps allowing some other young people to have this good start in life.

HUW EDWARDS:
Basketball in Manchester - lots of people who know nothing about the game at all will say, how many young kids are interested in basketball in Britain? What would you say to them?

JOHN AMAECHI:
Well, basketball is the second fastest growing sport in Britain. It's a very popular sport. The main problem with it has been that its infrastructure is absolutely diabolical. The governing body has been less than useless and the basketball league as is does not really promote youth basketball - they're more interested in basketball as a business. Whereas my club in Manchester, what we're all about is getting bodies in the gym, seeing if they're interested in basketball - if they want to play just as a pastime - great. If they want to see if they can excel - even better.

HUW EDWARDS:
What evidence is there do you think that it might grow nation wide? Because with your name attached to this in Manchester that's going to be a success because it's very high profile. What hopes do you have that it will spread - go into Scotland, go into Wales and strengthen in the rest of England?

JOHN AMAECHI:
We absolutely want to bring it throughout the nation. We know it's possible because the interest is there. We had a week of camp this week where we had probably a hundred kids waiting list to attend and the kids came from everywhere. We had kids from - not only throughout Britain - everywhere in Britain, throughout Scotland, throughout Wales but also from Hungary, from Canada, from America - the kids came from everywhere to play basketball. We know there's an interest in this country. Now we need to set up some partnerships to try and get this type of thing throughout the country.

HUW EDWARDS:
Lots of people expressed strong views John about why we have lot of problems with youth in this country at the moment - high levels of crime or not attending school or whatever the problem may be. What's your view are the main problems there? Do you think that sport can solve lots of those problems? Because lots of people think that's a kind of superficial answer. But is it an answer?

JOHN AMAECHI:
I'd agree with the experts that sport is not the answer. But certainly I think it has been proven in many different countries and in many different ways that to offer children - youth - any kind of even remotely viable option other than doing mischief and they will take that. Especially if it has some kind of really real ends to it that you can see that perhaps I could succeeded in basketball.

Despite that, we are forming a situation in Manchester where kids can become involved in the club, not only as players but learn how to referee, learn how to become administrators perhaps in the club so that we have some kind of renewable resource for ourselves.

HUW EDWARDS:
I know you've got an expert insight into this because I understand you're doing a doctorate in child psychology which prompts the question - why are you so driven in this area? What prompts you to support the children context in this kind of way?

JOHN AMAECHI:
I just think it's an absolute responsibility for sportsman. I'm very disappointed when I see other sportsmen, other celebrities, who don't realise the very power of their being. I understand that although I don't command the same kind of fan base as perhaps a Beckham or some other famous football player, if one person looks up to you, you have a great responsibility to behave in a way that really forms respect. That makes people see that there are alternatives to being this image of a sports hero who is perhaps involved in too many negative things.

HUW EDWARDS:
It's not just the role model in your case John, you're putting you're money there as well and lots of money too. So in that sense you are personally investing in children's futures as well.

JOHN AMAECHI:
I always say that the money is far less important in terms of my investment than is my time and my interest. What's important in Manchester and as we move throughout the country is the fact that I'm not just going to throw my name on a building and then leave it. I want to be involved, I want to know the kids. When I left camp this week, I left the kids with my e-mail address so they can get in touch with me. It's important that way.

HUW EDWARDS:
Just a final point about your career as a player now. How's that going? And what are the prospects for you in the next year?

JOHN AMAECHI:
It's going well. I have three years remaining on my contract. So I will be around for some time.

HUW EDWARDS:
I can see the pounds signs going round right now. It's good to talk to you John. Thank you very much indeed.

JOHN AMAECHI:
Thank you.


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