NEWCASTLE Eagles are facing a big battle to retain their status as kings of the BBL – but it is nothing compared to the fight that British basketball is facing after the decision to cut their funding for the next Olympic cycle.
That is the opinion of Eagles owner Paul Blake, who has urged the region’s basketball fans to sign a petition aimed at battling the contentious decision by UK Sport to cut every penny of the £8.6m funding provided for the sport in the run-up to London 2012.
That hammer blow to the sport was made in December, when UK Sport announced record funding for Olympic sports in the run-up to Rio. But with Team GB unlikely to compete for a medal in Brazil – they have built up a team from a very low base into the top 25 in the world – they have cut the programme out entirely.
That decision has put the future of Team GB in serious jeopardy, with Blake admitting that it undermines the national team’s attempts to compete with Europe’s best. He says the team are likely to have to just turn up and play in the next European championships, rather than build up to them with training camps and pre-tournament friendlies.
That is in spite of the sport’s participation rates lagging behind only football in the latest UK sport statistics – and despite the real efforts made at making the sport more inclusive.
The decision has also been attacked by Sunderland MP Sharon Hodgson, who put forward the Eagles’ community projects as a reason why the sport should not be cut out of the loop.
Blake said: “We need as many people as possible to sign the e-petition. It now has almost 8,000 signatures and we want to get it to 10,000 before the weekend if possible. We need everyone in the region who is a basketball fan or has the interests of the sport at heart to sign this. The bottom line is that this is a really short-sighted decision to take funding away after one cycle. That’s never been the case with funding at this level for any sport before and is extremely counter-productive for the sport.
“Over the last four to five years in a competitive environment, GB have become competitive, which is what we were looking to do all along.”
Blake stressed that the Eagles’ community projects would continue to do good work in the city, but points out that it is crucial to have a competitive national side, which is what the funding helped to build.
“We see with cricket and rugby the importance of a national side in driving the growth of a sport,” Blake said.
The Eagles believe they have seen proof of the popularity of the sport in recent weeks, with 7,500 watching the domestic final of the BBL Cup in Birmingham – and more than 10,000 watching the NBA at London’s O2.
“The participation rates say it all,” Blake said. “We just find it an incredibly short-sighted decision.”
Anyone who wants to sign the petition – and it will take 100,000 signatures to get it debated in the Houses of Parliament – should go to www.epetitions. direct.gov.uk/petitions/43456. Twitter users can lend their support by following the hashtag #fundbritishbasketball.
Meanwhile, the Eagles take on Mersey Tigers tonight still hoping to beat the weather and get the BBL clash on.
Sharp-shooter Joe Chapman is paying no attention to the league standings, which show the Tigers are yet to win a point this season.
“I do not care if Mersey have not won,” he said. “They denied us in three competitions three years ago and we still remember that. It is still on our minds whenever we face the Mersey Tigers. We will just go out to the play the game. We play the badge, not the league position.”