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Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Basketball star has funding doubt

By Martin Gough

John Amaechi
Amaechi helped England to Commonwealth bronze in 2006

British basketball great John Amaechi has raised concerns over how the sport's 2012 funding will be spent.

Basketball's increase in funding of 5.06m to 8.75m was the biggest for any of the Olympic pursuits.

Amaechi told BBC Sport: "I hope they know what to spend it on. There are very few basketball minds involved.

"I'm not sure whether any of the people who hold the purse strings have ever played, coached or even watched a basketball game."

Amaechi, who played in America's NBA for Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz, returned from retirement to lead England to a Commonwealth bronze medal in 2006.

Since then, the home nations have been drawn together under the banner GB Basketball but there have been disputes over funding, with GB's Olympic place still not guaranteed.

I expect this decision will kick-start the game but there is zero infrastructure to go with it

John Amaechi

However the team has qualified for the European Championships in 2009, for the first time since 1981, and GB Basketball performance director Chris Spice said: "The proof is in the pudding.

"We've made a massive improvement over the last few years and that has been recognised by government.

"I'm confident we've got the right people in the right place.

"Our on-court performances in the last few years have been significant and that's down to the players, coaches and organisation."

Amaechi applauded the arrival of British-qualified NBA stars Luol Deng and Pops Mensah-Bonsu but was critical of the system in place to develop young British talent in this country.

He also called for the appointment of a world-class coach, although he refused to criticise current incumbent Chris Finch.

"The NBA guys bring gravitas and strength but the team as a whole is working well. However, the drop-off between them and the next generation is a real gulf," he said.

"The young people on the team have worked very hard under circumstances that no Olympian would have to deal with, paying their own expenses and with a volunteer head coach."

Amaechi runs a coaching centre in Manchester and has seen 26 of his young players take up scholarships to US universities in the last four years.

"There was no infrastructure to keep them here so their only option was to leave and they've got commitments now," he explained.

"The standard of the BBL [British Basketball League] is so poor that it doesn't promote a good quality GB team."

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BBC Sport's Matt Slater
However, BBL chairman Paul Blake argued that there is a structure to take players from beginner to elite level.

"Our infrastructure now as a league is significantly better now than it was 10 years ago," said the Newcastle Eagles owner.

"I can say that categorically as somebody that was running this club 10 years ago, at a point when John Amaechi was playing in this league."

Former Eagle and GB captain Andrew Sullivan is just one of the leading British players currently plying his trade in Europe.

But Blake explained: "The finances of some of the European clubs are not far from those of Premier League football clubs. It's a very competitive market.

"A good number of GB players would tell you if they had the choice of where to play the game it would be here but the finances we have are not in the market against the European leagues."

Amaechi said of the UK Sport funding move: "I expect this decision will kick-start the game but there is zero infrastructure to go with it.

"Outdoor courts are useless in this country because there is so much rain - we need affordable indoor venues.

"Infrastructure is key and it needs to be put in place to take advantage of the 2012 Games, not after it."

There is a clear line from the grass roots to elite performance and that has not been the case before

Chris Spice, GB Basketball

However, Spice believes it was the sport's ability to leave a legacy, attracting new players to the sport and aiding their development, which attracted the increase in funding.

"In the last six months we have developed a long-term strategy, going through to 2016.

"There is a clear line from the grass roots to elite performance and that has not been the case before.

"I do agree, though, that we've got a massive facilities problem - that's a major stumbling block."

Spice also explained that funding would go into tracking the progress of players at US colleges, to help advise them and aid development.

"Basketball in the US has a massive infrastructure - 900 colleges with full-time basketball programmes - so we would be crazy to try and compete," he said.

I played basketball and I can tell you there is absolutely no hope of the Great Britain team winning an Olympic medal

Scott McCarthy
British Judo chief executive

On Thursday, British Judo Association chief executive Scott McCarthy criticised basketball's huge increase in funding, saying the move would not win a medal.

"This was supposed to be a no compromise system by UK Sport, targeting realistic medal shots," he said.

"I played basketball, it's my sport and I love it, and I can tell you there is absolutely no hope of the Great Britain team winning an Olympic medal in the next 20 years.

"We have realistic medal chances and yet they are receiving more funding than judo. It's ridiculous."

Amaechi, a BBC analyst during the Beijing Olympics, said: "Great Britain will get smashed by some teams but they are better than a lot of teams so I would expect them to compete against the vast majority."

Amaechi was speaking at a training session with Special Olympics athletes at his basketball centre in Manchester.

The Special Olympics National Summer Games - for people with a learning disability - take place in Leicester from the 25 to 31 July 2009.

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see also
Sports handed London 2012 budgets
03 Dec 08 |  Olympics
Olympic funding reaction
03 Dec 08 |  Olympics
2012 funding sport-by-sport
03 Dec 08 |  Olympics
GB handed tough EuroBasket draw
08 Nov 08 |  Basketball
GB defeat Czechs to reach Euros
17 Sep 08 |  Basketball
GB Basketball ends power struggle
01 Jun 07 |  Basketball


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