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Future of GB basketball hangs on London 2012 decision

By Jessica Creighton
BBC Olympic sports reporter

GB men's captain Drew Sullivan
Captain Drew Sullivan awaits Fiba's decision on Sunday

The future of basketball in Britain will lie in the hands of its world governing body this weekend.

Fiba will decide on Sunday whether to award British basketball teams guaranteed 2012 Olympics places, after a presentation by GB Basketball to Fiba's 22 board members in Lyon, France.

Without host places, both the GB men's and women's teams would face a tough test to qualify as of right.

A "yes" from Fiba could spark a revival in a sport that has toiled in the shadows of British sport despite high player numbers. A "no" could bring the sport to a grinding halt after steady progress in recent years.

"It's massive. It's hard to even put it into words," GB men's captain Drew Sullivan told BBC Sport.

"I honestly believe that the decision that's about to be made could have long-lasting ramifications in terms of development of the sport in this country.

London 2012 is the biggest potential selling point the sport has ever had

Mark Woods, MVP magazine

"To not get an automatic bid would be hugely disappointing for everyone involved - it goes as far as affecting our families and the whole basketball community."

Basketball is the third most popular team sport in the UK, behind football and cricket, with over 250,000 people playing the sport each month in England alone.

Basketball England currently receives roughly £1.9 million a year from funding body Sport England to provide better links between local clubs and schools to get more people playing basketball.

But still the sport remains on the outskirts of the public's consciousness, making it less of a commercial attraction to sponsors than higher profile sports.

GB Basketball is concerned that failure to qualify for the Olympics would hinder financial opportunities.

"A negative response from Fiba would certainly impact upon our ability to attract and retain sponsors, as well as reducing the opportunity to generate much needed commercial revenue from ancillary activity around the Standard Life GB Teams," said the British governing body in a statement.

Mark Woods, assistant editor at basketball magazine MVP, told BBC Sport: "A lot of basketball's problems, like many other sports, stem from a lack of finance - getting sponsors on board, selling tickets for major events. That becomes much easier when you can associate yourselves with some kind of success.

"London 2012 is the biggest potential selling point the sport has ever had. The exposure that would come from being at London 2012 is seen as the catalyst that can raise the sport into a new level."

We've earned so much respect in Europe from other European powerhouses

Drew Sullivan, GB captain

Having first sought - and apparently seen - proof that the British teams will be competitive enough to compete on an Olympic stage, Fiba now wants to know what long-term investment the sport will receive after London 2012.

Fiba secretary general Patrick Baumann - one of the people involved with making the decision on Sunday - recently told BBC Sport : "I think [the British bid] doesn't look too bad but there's still a debate that needs to take place and a convincing story about what's going to happen the day after the Games finish.

"I personally want to see Britain competing at every tournament. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Team GB one of the powerhouses of world basketball if the right measures are put in place for the future development of the game."

To prove their commitment to developing the sport post-Games, GB Basketball launched "Towards 2016" - an initiative to nurture Britain's younger players and prepare them for the elite level in the run up to the 2016 Olympics.

Warwick Cann, head of performance at GB Basketball, said: "The new T16 coaching initiative is a call to order for governing bodies, clubs, schools and coaches to focus and develop better quality coaching and player development as part of a new and effective national coaching system."

Basketball is currently the only one of the 26 Olympic sports to be challenged by its world governing body to justify its participation at London 2012.

Should Fiba not grant GB Basketball automatic host spots, the teams will have to rely on qualification through European Championships by placing in the top two for the men and winning the tournament for the women; or through a specific qualification tournament in 2012.

GB women's team member Jo Leedham admits qualification without Fiba's help could prove difficult, after they failed even to qualify for the last Eurobasket in 2009.

"It's our first time there so it's going to be very tough for us. Europe has got a lot of great players and teams," she said.

The men's team, in contrast, has made significant progress in recent years with winning promotion to Europe's top division and reaching two successive EuroBasket competitions in 2009 and 2011, although the team failed to get out of the group stages two years ago

Sullivan feels this demonstrates British basketball's potential as an emerging force.

"In such a short period of time we've earned so much respect in Europe from other European powerhouses," he said.

"Players and coaches alike talk about us with a lot of respect with the understanding that if they don't come and play against us with their A-game, there's a chance they will lose."

GB Basketball's chairman Bill McInnes - a former Scotland and Great Britain team captain - is charged with presenting the bid to Fiba.

Asked about GB's chances at London 2012, he said: "Realistically, on the men's side there has been a suggestion that we can compete for a bronze medal."

"The women may have a tougher time but another year to go with increasing talent pools gives us every reason to be optimistic of having a good Games in both the women's and men's events."

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see also
Highlights - GB scare Spain at EuroBasket
09 Sep 09 |  Basketball
Nets edge out Raptors in overtime
06 Mar 11 |  Basketball
Basketball boss upbeat on GB bid
04 Mar 11 |  Basketball
BOA backs GB Basketball for 2012
02 Mar 11 |  Basketball
NBA stars to play in Manchester
28 Feb 11 |  Basketball
GB's Mensah-Bonsu in French move
17 Feb 11 |  Basketball
2012 Olympics schedule revealed
15 Feb 11 |  London 2012

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