I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of basketball in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee has given us an opportunity to debate the future of basketball at such an important juncture for the sport. It is five years since this place last had a chance to discuss this hugely popular sport.
There are three main areas of the sport and different organisations leading and governing them, as befits a game played by so many in this country. To put it simply, we have the grassroots sport, which is overseen by Basketball England, Basketball Wales and Basketball Scotland, looking after all the amateur clubs, from juniors right up to the semi-professional national basketball league. We have the professional club game for adults, which is overseen by the British Basketball League and Women’s British Basketball League. In my constituency, we have Leeds Force, who are the newest team in the British Basketball League. I know that many other hon. Members are in attendance because they have WBBL or BBL teams locally; just like all sports fans, we are here to support our teams. Finally, we have the elite, international top of the sport, which is made up of the eight Great Britain teams, both male and female, playing in age groups and at adult level, and overseen by the British Basketball Federation. This is basketball GB.
I pay particular tribute to the women’s team, who beat both Portugal and Israel last week on the road, to jointly top their EuroBasket qualifying group with Greece, one of the pre-eminent basketball nations, which finished fourth at the last EuroBasket event, in 2017. Some of those top players are here today, as I am sure people will not have failed to notice: Stef Collins, GB women’s captain, Eilidh Simpson and Bev Kettlety, the team manager. Those women’s futures are at stake, as are the futures of their male counterparts, of all the boys and girls playing in the national age groups, and of all the boys and girls in the clubs out there who dream of one day putting on a Team GB jersey—in other words, all those who think that they have a future in basketball and that our great country will sustain their dream of one day playing for their national team. The more immediate future concerns those women present here today and their dreams of finishing the qualifiers and competing at the 2019 EuroBasket championships, where they have a brilliant chance of taking GB to its highest ever placing in the competition.
Minister, let us not be remembered for throwing an air ball; let us do what is right for basketball and slam dunk the ball right into the hoop for our GB players. At the moment, the ball is in the hands of UK Sport, and I am concerned that it is double dribbling with its decision not to fund GB basketball. I see an opportunity for the Minister to make an offensive turnover, and her assist could provide the opportunity for British basketball to score the winning three-pointer that sees those women through to EuroBasket in Serbia and Latvia in 2019 and all the other GB teams continuing to compete in their competitions, thereby maintaining the dreams of young people to play at the highest level.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this hugely important debate. On the point about dreams, does he recognise the point made to me by Tyler Gayle, who wrote to me on behalf of Sheffield Hatters, our women’s basketball team, and said that the sport of basketball is one of the most effective at reaching out to deprived communities? Is that not a particularly important reason that it should continue to be supported?
My hon. Friend’s area has two great basketball teams: Sheffield Hatters and Sheffield Sharks. People in disadvantaged communities in Sheffield, Leeds, London and other urban centres, aspire to play for such teams and, one day, for our national team, so his point is spot on. My constituent Tricia McKinney, knowing that this debate was scheduled to take place, wrote to me on a similar point. Her son represented England and played for Sheffield Sharks, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and her daughter and four grandchildren are involved with clubs in Leeds. She said:
“I see first hand the physical and social benefits ‘of being involved’. All the facts and figures show that basketball provides opportunities for adults and children from diverse ethnic backgrounds and both genders to participate in sport. It is a particularly important sport for those in deprived communities.”
That echoes my hon. Friend’s point.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Does he agree that local basketball involving colleges, schools and other organisations, such as John Leggott College and Leggott Academy, is so important and, indeed, key to helping to grow the grassroots of this very important game?
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely apt point, which leads me to my next point. My constituent Baile Beyai wrote to me:
“I’m currently studying Politics at Leeds University and Basketball was a big, big reason that I had the self-esteem to even attempt to study at university, especially growing up as a problem child”— those are his words—
“in a ‘disadvantaged’
area of London. So thank you;
it’s an inspiration that you’re commandeering these efforts as I doubt even you know how much impact it has on kids, especially ethnic minorities in low income families. We face a much…bigger dropout than other sports and more funding would definitely improve the chances of young children playing the sport. Growing up I was jumping trains to go to England Basketball trials and sessions by myself, and remember at age 16 I was forced to skip the regional competition because I just didn’t have the £120 to pay for hotels. I doubt such constraints are put on children who’ve been selected to a high level of competition in other sports.”
Minister, do we really want our inner-city kids driven to petty criminality in order to follow their dreams, or to abandon their dreams, as they cannot pay for hotels?
UK Sport recently announced £226 million for Olympic eligible sports until 2021. That includes £14.5 million for equestrian sports, £25.5 million for sailing and more than £6 million for modern pentathlon—a sport that requires a horse, a sword and a gun. None of those sports is within reach of the young people we see playing basketball. We are funding elite sports for elites.
Temi Fagbenle, who top scored for GB in last week’s win against Israel, started playing in Haringey. That ultimately led her to a scholarship at Harvard University and a contract in the Women’s National Basketball Association, where she plays for Minnesota.
Last week, Temi said:
“I feel…they are literally trying to rip the GB shirts off my and my team-mates’
backs. Just look at the athletes on the basketball teams—a lot of us are from ethnic minorities and/or grew up in working-class households. The youth from these groups, and young people in general, aren’t inspired by obscure sports that are completely alien to them, they are inspired by athletes they can relate with.”
This is the sad reality of where we are. The next game for Temi and the other women players will be in November, but will they be able to play that game and qualify for EuroBasket, as we have heard they are on course to do?
I think it is important, Mr Bailey, that you know the background to how we got here. In 2006, British Basketball was formed, as required by the International Basketball Federation—FIBA—in conjunction with the British Olympic Association, to guide our teams through to London 2012, where we qualified as hosts. Since then, basketball has continued to grow in popularity, with more and more players giving us our best ever base for the future, but funding has eroded and is almost entirely at risk, although our elite teams have continued to improve, especially the women, who finished a best ever ninth at the 2013 EuroBasket tournament. The two main funding bodies in this country are Sport England and UK Sport, but at present our GB teams do not receive funding from UK Sport because basketball does not meet the current performance policy. Sport England provides £4.7 million for the grassroots game in England and allocates £1.4 million for talent, with £150,000 of Sport England’s talent grant in 2018, plus a further indicative investment of up to £150,000 from that talent grant, to ensure that the men’s and women’s under-16, under-18 and under-20 age group teams can compete this summer, but there is nothing for the senior teams.
This temporary reallocation of funds is subject to final approval by Sport England, and I understand that it will be confirmed shortly. Grateful as I am to Sport England, that is not enough to sustain our GB teams, and if no more funding comes forward, we will have to withdraw all our teams. The sum of £1 million a year is enough to sustain all of elite basketball in the UK. The funding that basketball received was equivalent to just £10,000 per player, while so-called—but not guaranteed—podium team sports received £40,000 per player in the old funding regime.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s securing this debate, not least because I wake up every day to the NBA highlights on YouTube as my husband is such a fan. One reason for the great appeal of basketball is that it is a game of the street. That is particularly the case in London, where outdoor courts such as Clapham Common, Turnpike Lane and Bethnal Green can act as a social lubricant for people from all backgrounds. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that we need not just to focus on funding costly leagues and indoor basketball courts, but to get local authorities to fund outdoor courts properly and get proper facilities for people?
Absolutely. I am very grateful for the hon. Lady’s point, because I am not going into great depth about facilities, but we absolutely do need facilities, and I will come to the outdoor game later in my speech.
I am sure that most hon. Members think of basketball as a five-player game indoors, but they will also remember the classic movie “White Men Can’t Jump”, starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, in which Woody and Wesley play outdoors on a half-court, two on two. That will not quite become an Olympic sport, but if we add a player on each side, it will: 3 on 3 basketball will debut at the Tokyo 2020 games, in just two years’ time, as a full Olympic sport—an Olympic sport eligible for UK Sport funding. No one knows who the medal challengers will be or what our Olympic potential is.
The game 3 on 3 is played in every urban constituency, as Julia Lopez has pointed out. In fact, 3 on 3 basketball is the largest urban team sport in the world, according to a study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee. The Netherlands base their youth basketball development programme on the 3 on 3 style of play, and as a result the country is ranked second across all genders and ages. Ball Out 3x3 is pioneering 3 on 3 basketball in the UK and is endorsed by FIBA 3x3. It will deliver the nation’s biggest 3 on 3 tournament this summer. We will become one of the leaders of 3 on 3 if this continues.
In the United States, rapper Ice Cube has teamed up with former NBA stars to launch a 3 on 3 league. Cube said:
“It was to bring a style of basketball that I grew up playing, watching, and loving, which is 3-on-3 basketball.”
That is the same urban sport that our young people play outdoors. As this is the first debate I have led in Westminster Hall, I hope you will indulge me, Mr Bailey, and let me quote from the Ice Cube song, “It Was a Good Day”, which is about a day in south-central Los Angeles, a very urban and difficult area. It was a day without any gang violence, air pollution or police harassment. He raps:
“Which park, are y’all playin’
Get me on the court and I’m trouble”.
The game 3 on 3 is global, urban and an Olympic sport. It has a bright future, but we are not even considering its potential for our own programme. UK Sport revealed in its annual review that athletes in para taekwondo, para badminton, sport climbing, karate and BMX freestyle will receive national lottery support, as they enter the Olympic and Paralympic programme for the first time, but not 3 on 3.
Basketball GB wrote to UK Sport in June last year seeking a meeting about a 3 on 3 programme, but a meeting did not take place until January this year. Basketball GB has asked for help, as it needs expertise to research the position of the 3 on 3 game and strategic support for 3 on 3. I am sure that UK Sport will say that Basketball GB did not apply, which is true, but it took six months for UK Sport to engage with Basketball GB, and support was not forthcoming to put in a comprehensive application for Olympic funding. Basketball GB is waiting for UK Sport to confirm that they will support them in the process. We are missing an opportunity with 3 on 3. However, if we do fund it, we still need to keep our elite basketball teams on the court.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I wholeheartedly agree with many of his points. I have been contacted by many constituents representing Vale Vipers and Cardiff Met Archers, and by Sheridan Ward, whose son Jed has been selected to play for Wales. They are all passionate about this game. I know how much difference it made to kids in the vale when I was growing up. Some of them went off to play in the United States and at the top levels in the UK sport. Without this funding and support, kids will not have that chance in the future, so I wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend is saying.
My hon. Friend hits the nail right on the head. I am grateful for his contribution. Basketball Wales provides valuable support to UK basketball.
On broadcasting, the British Basketball League is not currently able to secure domestic and international broadcast revenues, whereas other European leagues have monetised broadcasting both domestically and internationally. Attendance figures vary throughout Europe, but basketball is clearly a popular spectator sport. BBL’s average stadium capacity is only 2,362—Leeds Force have the smallest arena in the UK—compared with 4,424 in Germany and 6,447 in Spain. The value of France’s domestic broadcasting rights for basketball stands at £8.5 million. The domestic league in Spain is valued at £5.3 million and Germany’s at £0.9 million.
The Perform Media Group—one the world’s largest sports media companies, which holds the BBL media rights—estimates that the level of interest in basketball in the UK stands at 20% of the population. That is one in five people. Similarly, 22% of the population in Germany takes an interest in the game. The figures for France and Spain are 33% and 61% respectively. Much smaller nations, such as Israel, still manage to monetise their league rights to the tune of £1.8 million. The potential audience of 20% in the UK is sizeable. If we can grow the brand appeal of both the national team and the BBL, that will help create a sustainable commercial model for both.
The UK’s domestic fan base is young—we can see that from those present in the Public Gallery—which is extremely important to advertisers. The monetisation of German and Israeli basketball gives us a benchmark for where the UK could realistically be in the future with the right funding and investment. However, due to the rise of internet protocol television there is general commercial uncertainty over the future of TV licensing revenues. As a result, the right to broadcast tier 1 sports, such as the premier league, the National Football League and the champions league, attract an even larger share of broadcasting budgets. Tier 2 sports, such as ruby league, ruby sevens and hockey, are struggling to grow and maintain revenues from broadcasting rights. Currently, the only way to watch the BBL is online, apart from the finals games that are broadcast—but poorly promoted—on the BBC. However, 10 times as many people watch the BBL on the Unilad Facebook page than on the BBC. There are huge opportunities to grow the audience for basketball here, and get more young people playing through clubs and rising to the highest level. These audiences will also attract commercial opportunities, but this takes time—time that the game is currently not being given.
Our GB games are also not being broadcast, with limited live-streaming opportunities to watch GB games, so how can the British fan base watch our national team and how can our national team move on to monetise their potential? In the medium term, if we can get those broadcasting rights for those games, we can monetise it, but in the short term, that just is not possible.
I hope that the Minister will take on board three recommendations, with which she can score a triple double—a basketball term for scoring 10 or more points in three different areas. First, I recommend that sports funds provide a short-term solution for the next three seasons so that GB players can stay on the court. Secondly, post-Tokyo, I recommend that the review of elite funding looks at a wider set of criteria than immediate podium potential and a wider range of socioeconomic factors, including the barriers to elite sport faced by our black, Asian and minority ethnic and disadvantaged communities, linking it to the sports they play. Finally, I would like the Minister to intervene and recommend that UK Sport undertakes an urgent review of the potential of 3 on 3 and that funding is made available for a development programme for a 3 on 3 squad for Tokyo.
I have something like eight Members down to speak. I intend to call the Front-Bench spokesperson at 10.30 am at the latest. That works out at approximately five minutes per speaker. I will not impose a time limit at this point, but I will start to get agitated and interrupt after five minutes. Back Benchers should bear that in mind.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, not least because the national cup champions, Hemel Storm, are in my constituency. I want to talk about two points. I agree completely, looking at aspiration, that there has to be an opportunity for our young boys and girls to start at school, come through the clubs and go on to play for England. If the funding is just about winning at the top all the time, there will never be that transition. While I absolutely agree with the policy of Sport England on elitism, money has to be put to one side to bring the different places through.
I slightly disagree with Alex Sobel: it is not all about young people. The average crowd at Hemel Storm—I see here some of the referees that have come to me—is 700. That club started seven years ago. We had a club many years ago; the franchise was bought out, and it went to Milton Keynes. When we restarted the club—I say “we”, because it is completely a community project—we made sure it was set up as a trust, so that it could never be sold off again.
From that moment on, the community came in. We have great-great-grandparents in the audience on a regular basis, and toddlers who cannot even walk. They are mostly not there because of the players. Of course, the families and loved ones of the players are there, but we could not get those sorts of numbers from only families and loved ones, in a town that has baseball, professional rugby league and three football clubs—I could go on. There is an elite gym where Max Whitlock and Jess Stretton, who won Olympic golds, came from. The crowd is there because it is a community thing. It is us coming together.
When we went to east London, to the Docklands, for the final against Manchester Magic, they never realised what happened to them, because we had 500-plus of our people in the crowd and I think Manchester Magic had about half a dozen, or perhaps fewer than that. I am not saying that that is why Manchester Magic lost; they lost because they were not as good as Hemel Storm—it is as simple as that.
The issues I have heard are not new to me. I have players playing for England at junior level. In the past, I have had families come to me and ask, “Can we help fundraise?”, to help these young players come through. Like many colleagues, I have had correspondence from young people with aspirations who want to get up there. They have been selected for the England junior team. Marina Christie and Jack Burnell are both coming through and should be playing for England soon. They have had problems, but the families are brilliant and support them. While I fully support saying that we need to get more help from central funding, if we are really honest with ourselves, basketball needs to come together better across the board, so that we have the structures we need, right from the bottom to the top.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with what the Leicester Riders said to me: basketball has a unique case for funding, because it is not just a sport, but a way to engage disengaged young people? He has been a Minister; he knows about young people who might fall the wrong way. Basketball can be a way to get them back on the right track, as sport generally is for young people.
I completely agree on the latter point: sport is aspirational. It is one of the great ways forward for people like me, born and bred in north London. I got into the armed forces because I could play rugby pretty well. It was pretty obvious that I would not have got in on my academic abilities, but I boxed and I played rugby pretty well. I did try to play basketball, but it was the wrong shaped ball for me, and they were all up here somewhere, even though I was in the Guards.
My right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan has touched on a very important point. Look at the people in the crowd watching: they are young and old, and from across our community. I am not going to pick on any particular area; at the end of the day, we come together as a community. Interestingly, Hemel Storm have only one overseas player. That is quite remarkable given the progression that we have made, but we simply did not have the money at the time to bring in players from Spain and America; we have one American player now.
We looked at how this could be funded, and we need to look at that all the way through. Look at the sponsorship of Hemel Storm: Epson, an international company; Vanarama, one of the largest leasing companies in the country and sponsors of the Vanarama football league; McDonald’s, interestingly enough, which is genuinely trying to show what it does with its healthy food; and Arriva, which has donated us a bus completely plastered with “Hemel Storm”, which we use when we are away.
Interestingly and importantly, Mr Bailey, when I was at the cup final, I saw absolutely no advertising. There was no marketing and no sponsorship. To me, that is the missing link. We can ask the lottery and Sport England for more money, but we also have to come together in the basketball community to get the sponsorship that we need.
I am delighted to speak in this debate and very glad that Alex Sobel secured it. I should declare two interests: first, the Glasgow Rocks are based in my constituency and play at the Emirates arena, and secondly, one of my caseworkers, Alexander Belic, is a Rocks season ticket holder. The Rocks have gone through a wee bit of history in Scotland. They started as the Edinburgh Rocks in 1998, became the Scottish Rocks, and then in 2008—I was a councillor in Glasgow City Council at the time—we pinched them and lured them over from Renfrewshire to play in Glasgow.
There will be more on that later from my hon. Friend.
The Rocks have been a huge success story in the city and a great thing to celebrate. I thank the new owner, Duncan Smillie, for his time earlier this week, when he gave me a wee bit more information on them for this debate.
In my constituency, the Emirates arena is a key part of the Commonwealth games legacy in Glasgow. It is a huge arena with great benefits for many sports, particularly basketball. It is very impressive and has a big capacity, so it can put on a great show. Basketball has the benefit of being something that people can do in Scotland indoors during the winter. That is of huge benefit to many people, because it is freezing and raining most of the time, so there is a consistency in being able to play indoors.
We have been able to grow lots of our own talent in Scotland. My son’s favourite player, Jonny Bunyan, joined the 1,000-point club at the weekend, having scored 1,000 points in the British Basketball League championship. That is a good achievement from a Scottish-grown player.
In Scotland, we have also had a good degree of success in securing the grassroots elements of basketball, particularly through Scottish Government funding through the CashBack for Communities scheme. For people who do not know, CashBack for Communities puts money from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 into grassroots sport. The scheme is in its fourth phase in Scotland. The basketball programme has received £2.1 million over the course of CashBack for Communities, and in this phase, basketball programmes got a significant £492,800, which will support 16 schools of basketball right across Scotland over the next three years.
The scheme has surpassed its targets: 95 new teams have been established across Scotland, 61% of Basketball Scotland’s membership are young people, and there are 155 registered members playing wheelchair basketball in Scotland. All the clubs that have youth sections in Scotland are also delivering women’s basketball, which is great. There is also an associated education programme, which sees qualifications achieved in partnership with Glasgow Kelvin College. That means the volunteer coaches who come through the programme get accreditation, which is really important, as they can take that on to other parts of their life.
Outreach work in schools, such as the Jump2it programme and Shell Twilight Basketball, run right across Scotland and are absolutely brilliant. At Glasgow Rocks games, the kids who are involved in those programmes come on at half time, which is absolutely great to see. They get to come in front of a huge crowd and have that experience, which is absolutely brilliant.
Shell Twilight Basketball runs in the highlands, Aberdeen, Fife, Dundee, Sterling, Glasgow, North Ayrshire and Stranraer, so it goes right across Scotland and is a really valued programme. It has the impact of youth diversionary activity, which the hon. Member for Leeds North West mentioned. It keeps the kids busy, occupied and healthy, and has that brilliant impact on those communities. It is very much done in partnership, working with local schools. Schools in my constituency see a huge benefit from it, because they have the team very close by. Credit goes to those Glasgow Rocks players who go into schools across the length and breadth of the country, are very accessible, and make promoting basketball to young people across the country part of their job.
The players’ other partnership work in Glasgow is with Active East, which is the Commonwealth games legacy programme. That has sustained funding, and I hope it will continue to be funded in the years ahead. It has had an impact on local schools. St Mungo’s Academy has a basketball team. At the school’s academic awards, the winner of the basketball MVP—most valuable player—award comes up with everybody else who has won an academic achievement, and is recognised by their peers. It is important that the partnerships between these organisations—Active East, Scottish Sports Futures, the colleges and Basketball Scotland—is in place.
The result of that success is that the Scottish team has qualified for the Commonwealth games for the very first time. That is brilliant, and we are really excited about it. Seven people on that 12-person team are Rocks players. That is an important aspect. The points that the hon. Member for Leeds North West made about losing out on places mean that we might not be able to put that team forward. That would be hugely disappointing, not only for the players, who are desperate to play and represent their country, but for Callan Low, who is only 17 and has been called up. I would be heartbroken if he was not able to take up that place. It is also important for the kids in my constituency to see the players that they have had in their schools, such as 6 foot 10 Kieron Achara, representing Scotland on the Commonwealth stage. I beg the Minister to do something to make sure that the sport is secured for the future.
In the words of Alex Sobel, I am here to support the Ilkeston Outlaws and the Derby Wheelblazers.
The Ilkeston Outlaws were set up in 1966, so have just celebrated half a century. They have gone from strength to strength: they lost their first match against Bestwood A by 121 points to 14, but are now winning, which is really good news. They have eight teams, beginning with boys and girls aged 7 and stretching into senior men and women. That covers something like 120 to 130 people across the community, and it is an amazing way to get people active in sports. However, the club do not receive any funding from the sport’s governing body, Basketball England. The regional body, Derbyshire Basketball Association, does help with some small-scale funding to support them at county tournaments and with coaching and official courses, but in the main, the club is self-funded, and that is probably one of their problems. They have managed to get some sponsorship, like the team mentioned by my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning, from a bus company; but that is just for kit and equipment—they do not have a bus from the bus company.
We will try harder, definitely. Having good kit and being branded provides a sense of community for the players. The bus company sponsors the under-12s squad, and it gives them a sense of purpose and of belonging that is so important.
When it comes to funding for the future, there is a lot more that Ilkeston Outlaws want to do. At the moment, girls must leave after reaching age 12, because there is no pathway for them beyond that. The club could set up a pathway for girls over 12, but it would run at a loss, which the club, as a community group, cannot afford. The school where the under-12s practise has made a great push on “This Girl Can”, but sadly, any girl over 12 cannot. On the other hand, boys can continue. If one looks back at the reports, one can see that some of the people involved in the club in 1966 are still involved. It shows what longevity basketball has. If we get it right at the grassroots, not just for boys but for girls, it can go from strength to strength in future.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech immensely, and I congratulate her team on its success. I do not quite understand why the girls must stop at age 12, while the boys can carry on. Would she be kind enough to explain?
That is a good point; my hon. Friend is right that it sounds odd. It is down to numbers. More boys are attracted to basketball at that age, especially in my local community. It is a matter of having the numbers. Long-term, a team for girls over 12 would be self-funding, but there would be a period after set-up before it would become fully funded and viable. It is about getting over that gap.
To look at it from another angle, children who start the right way—by doing sports, getting out and being active, and developing a good body awareness and image —are less likely to eat the wrong things and become obese, unlike many of their peer group. We need to look at it not just from a sporting point of view but from a health point of view. If we set them on the right pathway, they will have the right habits for life.
Before I finish, it would be remiss of me not to show my support for Derbyshire wheelchair basketball and our team, Derby Wheelblazers. We have a hub in Erewash that meets at Friesland sport centre in Sandiacre. Wheelchair basketball can be played by anyone: amputees, paraplegics and people with no disabilities whatever all play together. It is good to have that rounded approach.
If we get it right at grassroots level and at a young age, habits will be formed for a lifetime. Who knows? Maybe even more stars will make our country proud.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank my hon. Friend Alex Sobel for securing this important debate, and for his excellent and entertaining speech; I do not think that we have heard rap quoted in here before. He recently took over from me as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on basketball, and he is doing a sterling job; he has already done a lot more in that short time than I hoped to do to raise the profile of basketball in Parliament, and this debate is an excellent opportunity to do so.
I have always loved basketball. I know that I do not look like a basketball player—we have lots of them in the Public Gallery—but I played in high school, and I still love to watch the sport; I know that that is hard to believe. I always hoped that through the work of the all-party group, one day the sport would be as large as others, even football, and that it would be everywhere: on our TVs, on the news channels, in our local communities and in our international sports arenas. However, that cannot be achieved unless basketball receives fair and sustainable funding so the sport can grow from the grassroots up.
Basketball is the second most popular sport behind football for 11 to 15-year-olds. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is more popular than riding a bike, so why does the funding stay so low? All young people could benefit from basketball as a sport. It gets them active, but as shown in the results of the all-party group’s 2014 inquiry, which I chaired, it can also serve as a great tool for representation and aspiration, especially among children from deprived communities.
Basketball is perceived as very cool, and it is. It has street credibility globally, and due to its strong affinity with music and lifestyle, it is a sport that can resonate with young people. It can be played with very little space, equipment and money, making it truly representative. More than 300,000 young people aged 16 and over play basketball at least twice a week. It appeals to men, women, boys and girls—one in six participants are female—and is popular among players from less wealthy backgrounds. Somewhat uniquely, basketball is the only team sport in which more than half of registered members—58% of adult basketball participants—are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. That is followed by cricket, which is still some way behind at about 30%.
We have all plugged our local teams. My local team, the Newcastle Eagles, are absolutely amazing. I do not wish to gloat or be biased, but allow me to remind Members that they are the top team in the British Basketball League, having won the BBL championship seven times and the BBL cup six times. I was there for some of those games, cheering them on. Not only are the Newcastle Eagles a fantastic team, they do so much work for the local community and hold partnerships with Northumbria University. Little Dribblers, Mini Eagles, Hoops 4 Health and the School of Excellence are just some examples of what the Eagles Community Foundation, launched in 2006, helps to do for the local community. The primary school programme Hoops 4 Health works with 7,000 young people every year, encouraging them to play and get healthy. It is a great way to introduce children to the sport. They can also play in the Eagles’ central venue league on weekends. The Eagles are a great example of what all BBL clubs do, week in and week out.
Despite all that great work, since 2009, basketball nationally has received just £102 in funding per adult participant. That is less than half as much as the next highest comparable sport, netball, which receives £205. Why is that? I know that netball has its own attributes; I used to play when I was younger, although I preferred and was better at basketball. It is cooler, as well. Why must funding be shared so unfairly? Sport England’s February 2017 funding round awarded £4.73 million to Basketball England, and just £1 million to British Basketball. Wheelchair basketball funding was not announced until October 2017, when it received £300,000.
Based on Sport England’s active lives survey, just under 1% of the population—0.7%, to be exact—participated in basketball at least twice during the 28 days prior to the survey. Although that might seem like a small percentage, basketball placed 10th out of the top 25 sports by participation— only 8% of participation was in team sports—placing it ahead of other sports such as netball, rugby and hockey. [Interruption.] I will wind up, but before I do, I will make one point about funding. Those sports receive far more funding than basketball. Hockey receives more than £9 million in funding although only 0.3% of the population participate, meaning that hockey receives 50% more funding from Sport England than Basketball England, British Basketball and wheelchair basketball.
I had more that I wanted to say, but others want to participate, and I am being told to wind up, so I will leave it to the Minister to do the sums. I hope that she will consider what is being said today and fix the unfair funding, so that basketball becomes a national sport in this country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Alex Sobel on securing this debate. It seems that we share more than just a love of environmental and co-operative politics. I can be very proud as well, because Plymouth are two places above Leeds in the league table.
Basketball is a sport worthy of our support. It is growing, with more young people getting stuck in every day, and it has low barriers to entry, because all people need is a ball, a hoop and a flat surface. It can change lives.
As a supporter of the mighty Plymouth Raiders—as we know, the sporting hub of the country is Devon—who play at Plymouth Pavilions in my constituency, I know that basketball is fast-paced, family friendly and a great spectacle that grows every year. It has the opportunity to star as a sport that is embedded in the community by getting young people involved from day one, which is what Plymouth Raiders and Plymouth Storm, the wheelchair basketball side, do with their incredible community work.
Raiders are Plymouth’s only national top-flight sports club and we are very proud of them. They are firmly established in Plymouth’s big three alongside the in-form Plymouth Argyle, who are pushing for the playoffs in league one, and Plymouth Albion, who are fourth in rugby’s national league one.
Home games at the Pavilions are something special. For people who have not been to a basketball game, it is worth going along. It is not like a football game or a rugby game. I have seen Raiders play at the Copper Box at the Olympic park and I was brimming with pride at seeing them play on such a big stage, but there is no place like home. We have Foxy the mascot, the best basketball cheerleaders in the country, indoor fireworks, music, competitions on court and a chance to see hero players—going to a basketball game is fantastic. I last saw Raiders play on
Some hon. Members will know that as a massive gay, I am not really into the traditional cheerleader, but I am a big fan of equality, which Plymouth Raiders can boast about. In October 2015, Terrell Lawrence became the British Basketball League’s first male cheerleader and he remains centre-stage as the team’s choreographer and fitness coach. To be honest, I would love to be able to bust a move like he does when Raiders go on. It is on my bucket list, but sadly I fear my busting-a-move days are behind me.
The serious point of this debate is that despite basketball’s growing popularity, its funding is a real concern. As a country, we need to look at how we adopt our funding model. It is great that we put money behind going for gold, but we also need to put money behind sports that are growing in our communities, especially at the grassroots.
The lack of certainty about elite-level funding for basketball from UK Sport and Sport England has already been discussed. It needs to be pushed for. If we cannot compete at the highest level and allow our players to do what they do best—give it a go—we lose the role models our young people need to aspire to keep pushing themselves. We need better and more consistent elite and grassroots funding.
Basketball is a sport that centres on team spirit and attracts children and young people, particularly from working class and ethnic minority backgrounds. The lack of funding largely targets the underprivileged areas of the UK, including in Plymouth. The Minister will know that a lack of funding has consequences. She is a real sports fan and is passionate about participation, so she will take these concerns seriously. We need to compete at the world cup, EuroBasket, the Commonwealth games and the Olympics. We also need to be able to compete in new sports such as the 3 on 3, which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West mentioned.
In a world where we are at risk of turning our back on the global stage, we need to put our best foot forward and compete at international competitions. Basketball teams, like other sports teams, are a source of huge local and regional pride. Sport has a unique power to bring people together. Although basketball was not an English sport originally, it is one that the British people have adopted and hold dear.
This is a debate about not just the sport itself, but what sport can do in our communities. Basketball is a superb example of how elite and grassroots sports teams across the country have a fantastic role to play. Plymouth Raiders have launched two new community clubs for under-16 girls and sessions for walking basketball, which has not been mentioned yet. Similar initiatives are happening across the country and we should give teams the platform to talk up that work. Across the country, whether it is playing, coaching, officiating or volunteering, basketball is a fast-growing sport worthy of support at the highest political level.
Given the time limit, I will cut to the chase. This debate comes at a tough and rough time for urban, inner-city communities in our country. Local authorities have had their money slashed by up to 40%. The idea that they could invest in courts and facilities is, I am afraid, pie in the sky. In a constituency such as mine, knife crime and gun crime are souring. I thank God for groups such as the Haringey Hawks and the Haringey Angels. I thank God for the basketball facilities we have at Ducketts Common and Finsbury Park.
I ask the Minister very seriously why we are looking at the prospect of the decimation of elite basketball in this country. I remind her that this is absolutely an urban sport and a predominantly black, Asian and minority ethnic sport: almost 60% of adults in the sport are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. The figure for adult men is 75%. That is staggering. In reality, they are role models—role models I desperately need—but there cannot be role models if there is no prospect of making it to the elite.
When I look at the figures for this urban sport, which attracts black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the numbers it does, I have to ask why hockey received £28.1 million and the rugby league received £51.6 million. Why is it that canoeing, equestrian, cycling and rowing all do so much better? Where is the equity in that formula? Can the Minister satisfy herself that there is no unintended or unconscious bias in the way that judgments are being made about that funding? Urban communities across the country require young people to have the prospect of reaching their hoop dreams.
This debate is important because this is a critical moment for basketball in this country. There are many people in the Public Gallery and across the country waiting to hear what the Minister will say. On the tube, people have tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you going to be in the debate? What can you do about it, Mr Lammy?”
When we look at the problems that urban communities have across the country, we cannot talk about dreams and cut them away in the same breath. We need proper grassroots basketball, of course, but we absolutely need the prospect of being successful in the elite game. Ultimately, this debate is about whether we are going to throw that away after all the effort that has been put in. I cannot wait to hear the Minister’s response.
I congratulate Alex Sobel on bringing this debate to Westminster Hall for consideration. I am pleased to participate and to see whether we can persuade the Minister to do what everyone wants her to do: put more focus on basketball in this place and across the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, basketball is a small but passionate community, in which it is fair to say that love of the game has overtaken any issues of identity. With 22 teams in the Basketball Northern Ireland league, it is safe to say that we are happy to play—and hopefully beat—any and all teams.
My interest in basketball comes from my boys. We live on a farm and we had a basketball net out in the yard among the tractors and the cows. The boys played basketball when they could and it was a fun game for them. In America, where we sometimes go on holiday, the love of basketball is a phenomenon like our love of football or rugby. The players are superstars, the cheerleaders are as ferociously competitive as the players, and the sport has a buzz about it. Although we do not currently have that buzz in the UK, that is not to say that we cannot and will not. When I look back at Ulster Rugby in Northern Ireland 20 years ago, they did not have the passion and the buzz around them that they now have. I am astounded at how far they have come. It is not surprising to see young boys and girls walking down the street with their Ulster tops on, which gives an idea of what dedication and promotion can achieve among young people.
What brought about that change? It was the sport’s and promoters’ dedication to slogging away when we were not winning; it was going to schools and inspiring young people to take up the sport; and it was promoting the schools rugby cup with time, money, passion, drive and determination. All those things have brought about the change that was necessary.
The same can be said about the Northern Ireland football team, who are at a level that was unheard of years ago. We are no longer the joke act. The best teams understand that there is a good chance that they could fall under the weight of the green and white army; many of us have believed that for a long time, and the figures and statistics indicate it as well. For those who have kept paying for season tickets and hoping and believing, the ambition used to be for Northern Ireland to score one goal, but now it is for us to beat the best teams—and we can.
Hon. Members have mentioned cycling. Britain is now the greatest cycling nation in the world. Did that happen by chance, because hundreds more people just decided to take up the sport and were good at it? No, it came through a targeted offensive aimed at young people and showing what could be achieved. Why are we taking the focus off inspiring our young people to get off the sofa, get off their mobiles, interact in a team, build fitness and build relationships? We regularly read figures about childhood obesity. If those figures do not inspire us to act, I do not know what will.
Every year, Wimbledon lights a fire in a child to pick up a tennis racket. My parliamentary aide’s niece and nephew have done just that, and they now play for the Ulster team. We could achieve even more inspiration and attraction, but that takes funding.
For the sake of mental and physical health, combating social isolation, encouraging those who struggle academically and building self-esteem and confidence in children, I ask the Minister and her colleagues for action to help children who play basketball, as well as tennis and other sports. Perhaps we can win gold at the next Olympics—who knows? We can certainly get kids off the sofa and involved in sport if we fund it and make it attractive and accessible. That would be gold enough for me.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, which was introduced with such energy, enthusiasm and expertise by my constituency neighbour and good friend, my hon. Friend Alex Sobel. In the few minutes available, I would like to address the history of basketball, the implications for its future, and the issue of broadcasting.
As several hon. Members have said, the United States have always provided inspiration. My hon. Friend mentioned “White Men Can’t Jump”; I understand that the basketball film that everyone is looking out for this year is “Uncle Drew”. Basketball first came to the United Kingdom in the 1890s, when a gentleman called C. J. Proctor of the Birkenhead YMCA went to Canada, was inspired by the sport and brought it back to our country. The participation of American soldiers in the first world war reinforced that connection. The London YMCA—the greatest team in our country in the 1920s—went to the 1924 Paris Olympics, at which basketball was a demonstration sport, and did not lose a game.
We have that history with the United States, but even today people go on basketball scholarships there and in Europe, because the only way they can become really expert at the game is by going abroad. In my area, the Bradford Dragons have a number of players who have followed that pattern: Zion Tordoff, Eisley Swaine, Matty Okros and Tamas Okros have all played for England at age-group level and are now looking for opportunities elsewhere. At a lower level, the Keighley Wildcats aim
“to promote healthy living, social interaction and community togetherness through our mutual love of the game of basketball”,
Which is all organised by a man who goes by the great name of Andy Romero-Birkbeck.
The link with the United States brings me on to broadcasting. Every year, National Basketball Association teams play a game at the O2 in London and not enough is made of it, whereas when American football is played at the O2 we get live free-to-air coverage. The NBA is the greatest basketball league in the world, and we need more support from it. Why not have a British final at the same venue on the same day as the NBA game? That would create an event that might be attractive to free-to-air TV.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West is right to say that some of the basketball figures on the BBC Sport website have been disappointing. More needs to be done to promote the sport, perhaps by showing it on a different night; Friday is a very crowded night for sports, so Thursday might be better. We must also make the most of the broadcasting opportunities from the Commonwealth games. These are only the second ever Commonwealth games—Melbourne was the first—to include a basketball tournament. Both England and Scotland will be represented, and it will all be broadcast live on free-to-air TV. I do not think that the sports for the Commonwealth games in Birmingham have been decided yet, so let us lobby to ensure that they are the first Commonwealth games in the United Kingdom to feature basketball. There is an awful lot more to do on broadcasting and general promotion of the game.
I end with an appeal to the Minister. We all have great confidence in her; we know that she loves sport, that she does not take no for an answer and that she knocks heads together. The rules are the rules, but sometimes they have to be interpreted creatively. We have to preserve our national teams, because they are the heroes and heroines who inspire people to take up the game. Whatever else the Minister does in her tenure, please will she save British basketball?
We have already heard how basketball reaches further into communities than many other sports in this country, how it reaches children from black, Asian and minority ethnic and deprived backgrounds, and what value it provides. The case for funding is clear, but we need to stress the value that basketball can bring to our local communities by tackling the problems that we struggle with in London and across the country, including serious youth violence, and young people getting involved in crime and needing to be helped out.
I will not go through all the statistics, but 2017 was one of the worst years for fatalities, knife crime and youth violence since the ’70s: 39 teenagers were stabbed to death. There have already been 13 fatalities in London this year, and we are only in February. We know that knife crime is a complex issue with many underlying causes that we could debate for hours, but among them are cuts to our youth services. Young people do not have the roots, activities, aspirations, hopes and role models that they once did. Basketball has a real role to play in addressing that.
Absolutely. I have met many young people who have come out of prison, who have carried knives or who have been involved in knife crime or selling drugs. Many of them have responded well to sports, including through organisations such as Gloves Not Gunz. There are many different sporting activities that we can encourage people to get involved with, but basketball is a key one.
After the Croydon riots in 2011, teachers and basketball players in Croydon set up the Croydon Cougars. The club does fantastic work with local people, and it also manages to fit in some extra homework time, so that children can play basketball for free and get tuition and help with homework afterwards—a good combination. Croydon Council and OnSide Youth Zones are funding a very big and impressive new, all-singing, all-dancing, youth centre in Croydon that will cost £6 million and will open next year. It should bring in thousands of young people and give them things to do, and basketball will be a key part of it.
I want young people in Croydon to be able to say, “If I put the effort in, show talent and become good at this, there is a pathway right to the very top,” but unless we fund the very top as well as the grassroots, that pathway will not be there for them. I echo other hon. Members in urging the Minister to consider basketball really carefully and see whether she can find some money for it.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Bailey. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair once again.
It is also a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I congratulate Alex Sobel, not only on securing it, but on getting on the parliamentary record what I think is the first reference to Ice Cube. He will be remembered for that, if for nothing else. I also echo the sentiments expressed so powerfully by Mr Lammy; I think he spoke for many of us.
Unfortunately, basketball is a slightly touchy subject in my constituency. As we heard, we hosted the Scottish Rocks at the Braehead arena for about six years. In 2008, however, they moved to Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, before moving to their current home at the Emirates arena. Their move to Glasgow coincided with a name change: the team is now called the Glasgow Rocks. We already have Glasgow airport in the Renfrewshire area, so I am sure we could live with the name change if the team chose to come back to Renfrewshire.
We shall see about that. The Rocks attract healthy crowds. Their popularity should not come as a surprise, given that they are second in the British Basketball League championship, sitting just behind what is apparently the best team in the league, the Newcastle Eagles, and given that basketball is so popular in local schools and communities. As we have heard, it is also popular in English schools, where over a million children between the ages of 11 and 15 play the sport.
A survey carried out by Sport England in 2012-13 identified basketball as the third most popular sport for once-a-week participation among over-16s, behind only football and rugby union. That level of engagement is mirrored in other age groups, because basketball was the fourth largest team sport in 2016, with over 160,000 people playing recreationally every single week.
I have witnessed the popularity of this sport in my constituency, through the excellent work of React Basketball. It exists to advance public participation in the sport, regardless of how good someone is at it. Essentially, its work is about keeping children active. The great thing about React is that its work is not limited to encouraging boys and girls to play the sport; it also works to instil a sense of social responsibility and pride in young people. It is firmly rooted in the community, and it extends its efforts to raising funds for other causes, such as cancer research. It is a fantastic example of a sporting charity that uses the power of sport not only to help those whom it engages with directly, but to help improve local communities and wider society.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the achievements of Basketball Paisley. It is considered to be one of Scotland’s biggest and most successful basketball clubs, and since its inception its various teams have managed to bring 95 trophies back to Paisley. In fact, only last Friday night, the senior men’s team were crowned Scottish league champions, 18 years after their last league title.
As with React, Basketball Paisley is successful on and off the court: it does community outreach work, and runs community clubs across Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire for kids from primary school through to second year at secondary school. These clubs are open to everyone regardless of ability, and are always popular among schoolchildren.
Basketball also leads the way when it comes to disability sport: many disabled people play and become involved in it. The Great Britain wheelchair men’s basketball team won gold in the European championships for the third time in a row in 2015 and were fourth at the London Olympics, and the GB women’s team won their second bronze in a row at the European championships in 2015. Wheelchair basketball is an inclusive sport that allows many individuals who would not normally be able to access sporting opportunities to become involved in sport. According to the all-party group on basketball, wheelchair basketball is the largest disability sport in the world, and it has the world’s largest women’s league in disability sport.
British Basketball is working hard to grow basketball, and its “Transforming Basketball in Britain Together” strategy sets out its intentions to improve the sport in all parts of the UK, from grassroots through to elite level. However, as I will discuss a little later, basketball, like other sports, is held back by UK Sport’s fixation with funding only elite sports that have medal potential. The Scottish Government recognise the popularity of basketball and encourage people across Scotland to play it. The Shell Twilight Basketball project, supported by the Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities fund, which we have already heard about, provides basketball sessions infused with education and life skills for all those aged between 11 and 21.
The Scottish Government are keen to get more women playing different sports, including basketball, and in 2017 they announced a fund to help that aim become a reality. One of the projects that benefited from that fund was the Scottish Women Warriors wheelchair basketball club. It is a fantastic club that is based on the philosophy that it is
“about what you can do—not about what you can’t do”.
It is a fantastic resource to get people fit and healthy, but perhaps even more importantly, the Scottish Women Warriors club serves as a vital support network for all the women involved. Projects such as this one have helped to grow the sport over the past four years, with research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre revealing that 82% more women now play in basketball clubs. Groups such as the Scottish Women Warriors not only highlight the inclusivity of wheelchair basketball but help to capture the growth of the sport.
A few months ago, I met Kevin Pringle and David Watt from Basketball Scotland, and they spoke with great passion about the fantastic work that the sport does to encourage individuals from all backgrounds to start playing it. It is important that such work is recognised in the funding of groups.
As I have said, one of the stumbling blocks threatening the growth of basketball is the stringent funding criteria of UK Sport. This issue does not just affect basketball. I have written to UK Sport about the impact that its funding criteria have on other sports, such as badminton. Another stumbling block is the historically low level of direct funding for basketball in relative terms. As we heard from Mrs Hodgson, basketball receives only £102 per adult participant. She referred to netball, but hockey receives £259 a head in funding, and my sport of rugby union receives £276 a head. These are the figures for Sport England funding only; if we include elite funding from UK Sport, the discrepancies become far, far greater.
UK Sport’s funding criteria ignore the high participation rates for basketball, and the sport is also doing great work in recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds. I agree with British Basketball when it says:
“We believe Basketball has a unique case for funding, as it is not just a sport, but also a way to engage disengaged young people, particularly from BAME communities, and offer wider life opportunities, and reduce the potential for involvement in anti-social and criminal activities”.
Unfortunately, despite the great work that basketball does in our communities by improving health outcomes, reducing antisocial behaviour and encouraging involvement from diverse groups, British Basketball warns that it is reaching a “crisis point in funding”, which puts its progress in real danger.
Winning a medal at the Olympics should not be the only way in which we judge success. UK Sport’s funding criteria should also judge participation rates, engagement from diverse backgrounds and social impact. Assessing sports by these factors would help sports such as basketball to grow and flourish.
Much more importantly, right across the four nations we need to become much fitter and healthier. The obesity and inactivity rates are desperately high, and they not only impact on individuals, particularly later in life, but are a great cost to society and the public purse. It is estimated that obesity and physical inactivity cost NHS services across the UK around £6 billion a year, and the cost to the wider economy would be much higher.
The future of basketball can be bright, but the sport needs to be supported to achieve its full potential. Experience shows that young people from all backgrounds are jumping—literally and figuratively—at the chance to play basketball. However, the success of the sport is under threat due to the funding criteria of UK Sport. We need to use this debate to call on UK Sport to recognise participation rates as much as it recognises medal success or medal potential. We all want to see our teams and athletes winning medals, but the best way to ensure that happens is by supporting grassroots sports and providing a pathway through to the elite level.
I will end by congratulating Scotland on qualifying for the Commonwealth games for the first time. I wish the team all the very best on the Gold Coast.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey.
First, I thank my hon. Friend Alex Sobel for calling this debate. He is a champion of basketball, serving as the chair of the all-party group on basketball, and is also a fierce supporter of his local team, Leeds Force.
I also thank all Members from all parties for their contributions today. As has already been pointed out, basketball is a truly unique sport. I played on my university team for three years and enjoyed it, proving that mixed-race, Pakistani-Polish girls can jump. [Laughter.]
Basketball has an amazing grassroots following and reaches out to demographics that other sports simply cannot. It gathers popular support among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and among those who come from traditionally poorer backgrounds.
In the UK, basketball is the second most popular sport played by 11 to 15-year-olds, and that cannot go unnoticed. One in four teenagers played it last month alone. The sport can play a major role in supporting communities and can help to address the issues they traditionally face. My hon. Friend Sarah Jones made that point most eloquently. Those issues include everything from education and health to inclusion, aspiration and employment opportunities. As my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson says, it can also do a great deal to deter people from engaging in criminal activities and help them to stay out of gangs. Yet it remains woefully underfunded, under-appreciated and under-acknowledged. Facilities are poor and many local clubs struggle financially. If basketball is to continue to support our communities, we must support basketball—it needs proper funding. We need to plan for the future. We need to create role models. We need to inspire.
Part of the attraction for young aspiring players is being able to see themselves and their values in the players they support, respect and look up to. Some of the most famous basketball players the world has seen started out in the sort of communities we need to inspire. My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy spoke eloquently about the need for role models and about how we cannot ignore the communities that basketball speaks to. We have Luol Deng, originally from Sudan, who moved to Brixton, where he played basketball at his local club and went on to become a two-time NBA all-star. Do we have the next Luol Deng, the next LeBron James, the next Michael Jordan, in our ranks? We do not know. But one thing is certain: if we do not fund basketball, we will never know.
Sadly, no Government funding will be available for elite athletes from April. That risks preventing participation in the world cup, EuroBasket, the Commonwealth games and the Olympics. Although success at the Olympics brings wonderful plaudits for those sportsmen and women who work tirelessly for success, our funding formula cannot always be driven by Olympic medal potential. As my hon. Friend John Grogan and my hon. Friend Luke Pollard have said, it is right that as a country we support athletes who are at the top of their game—those who have the ability to achieve their dreams—but when large swathes of young people are galvanised by their love for a sport such as basketball and not by Olympic medal potential, we owe it to them to ensure adequate funding.
It is a terrible shame that our professional basketball teams have been pushed to the brink of financial collapse. A last-minute deal saved our national team from pulling out of the European championships this year. Without additional funding, we risk losing future stars and damaging the positive impact that basketball has on all our communities. The recent U-turn made by Sport England suggests that there is the capacity for bespoke partnerships. Badminton was originally one of five sports set to lose all its funding for the next Olympic and Paralympic games; however, it has now been placed on a medal support plan, following the team’s success at the 2017 world cup championships.
Basketball’s contribution to local communities deserves recognition. Look at who we have here in Westminster Hall, coming and fighting for their sport. Look at the cross-party agreement we have today about the necessity of adequate funding for basketball. Sometimes sports need to be judged more than on just their medal potential. The narrative must change. I hope that the Minister agrees that if we refuse to give basketball the funding it needs, we risk losing an exceptional sport and all the people it reaches out to.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank Alex Sobel for securing this debate. Given the number of contributions from colleagues across the House, I hope that the players who have travelled to watch the debate from the Gallery, and indeed those who are watching outside, recognise how much we value basketball in this place.
Colleagues have made some brilliant speeches, and at this point I particularly mention those of my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning, Mrs Hodgson, Mr Lammy and Sarah Jones. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead—a genuine champion for sport in his constituency, and a fellow Tottenham fan—made a really important point about getting basketball working better together, and I would welcome his thoughts and comments after the debate on how we can make that happen. Likewise, John Grogan made some really important points about broadcasting and displayed some creative thinking about how we can bring that together, so I would welcome his thoughts also on how we can promote the game.
I completely agree. I will refer to the BBC coverage in my speech. It is important to remember that people watch the BBC’s free-to-air broadcasting and that it brings value to sport in this country.
I pay tribute to the comments made by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, who has been a true champion of basketball for all the time we have been in the House together. It was her passion that had me shooting some hoops in the shadow of Big Ben in the pouring rain—it was hard, however, for me to shake off my netball arm. She mentioned some comparative funding figures. I know she appreciates that funding is complex and is allocated for lots of different factors, and I hope she will not mind if I take her points away, consider them in more detail and get back to her if necessary.
In response to the points made by the right hon. Member for Tottenham and the hon. Member for Croydon Central, I could not agree more about the disruptive and the diversionary power of sport. I sit on all the relevant ministerial groups—something I am sure they appreciate—including that on gangs, in which I regularly try to promote sport and ensure that its power is recognised and funding made available, so that projects can go into communities to help the disruptive and the diversionary aspects that the Members are rightly concerned about in their London constituencies.
As a nation, we should be proud of the investments we make in support of sport, both at the grassroots and on the Olympic and Paralympic stage. After Rio in 2016, many international Sports Ministers came to me to see how they could get a better understanding of how we invest in sport, with our unique mix of Exchequer and lottery funding. We are very different from America, for example, where sport is solely privately funded, and from China, where it is completely state-funded. We have a true mix of funding streams. As colleagues know, Sport England invests lottery and Exchequer funds in its “Towards an Active Nation” strategy. Sport and physical activity have the power to transform people’s wellbeing and create a fitter, healthier and happier nation. UK Sport inspires the nation by investing in Olympic and Paralympic success. The two organisations have an agreed memorandum of understanding on talent, but are largely tasked to invest in sport and physical activity at different levels against criteria specific to their remits.
I am a fan of basketball. I never played, because my sister is about 6 inches taller than me and also three years younger. So I stuck to football and she stuck to basketball and my poor mum’s garden was obliterated as a consequence. However, I recognise the opportunities basketball provides across the country and internationally. At the grassroots, basketball can have great success in engaging young people from disadvantaged communities, which is reflected in Sport England’s investment in the sport at that level. The organisation’s Active Lives figures show that just over 300,000 people in England had played basketball at least twice in the previous 28 days, and between 2013 and 2021 it expects to invest just over £18 million in basketball’s grassroots. That investment runs much wider than in national governing bodies, and includes localised projects such as StreetGames doorstep clubs and providers such as Reach and Teach. Basketball England will receive £2.1 million of Sport England investment to deliver satellite clubs that create regular, informal opportunities for young people who have not made the commitment to regular club basketball or are completely new to the game, particularly young people from groups typically underrepresented in sport. Other organisations such as county sports partnerships also receive funding to invest in satellite club projects locally, including basketball provision. A total of 608 satellite clubs have been established between 2013 and 2018, attracting nearly 45,000 young people.
Basketball is a sport with professional opportunities for those with skill and commitment. The men’s and women’s British basketball leagues represent the top tier of domestic competition. They offer ambitious playing opportunities for some of the most talented individuals and a showcase of regular live games for their fans. As has been mentioned, not only can BBL fans follow the competition in person or streamed online, but they can now enjoy 32 games broadcast on the BBC via the red button, making the domestic league possibly more accessible than ever before. There is always more to be done, but rights are matters for national governing bodies. Earlier this year we welcomed an eighth regular season NBA game to London, and I am keen to encourage more NBA presence and investment in the UK as part of our wider ambitions to bring more US sports over here.
There is much to appreciate about basketball in the UK, but we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation. A great number of conversations have taken place in recent months with British Basketball, Sport England, UK Sport and the hon. Member for Leeds North West and the all-party group about the state of the finances in supporting a financially sustainable GB set-up. It is with great regret that none of that investigation has identified viable solutions. That has led to us discussing the matter here again today.
When I saw British Basketball last year, it was optimistic about a commercial sponsorship that would have helped enormously, but sadly that fell through. British Basketball approached my Department again in January to outline its immediate shortfall, and a great deal of effort on all parts sought a potential solution to support the age group GB teams through Sport England talent funding. As our English sports council, Sport England invests in participation and physical activity, but its priority must be to support its grassroots programmes, which include using sport to reach into communities that other initiatives do not.
The other sports body in which we invest Exchequer and lottery funds is UK Sport. UK Sport funds Olympic and Paralympic success. Its “No compromise” funding philosophy has taken the GB Olympic team from 36th in the medal table in Atlanta 1996 to third in London and now to second at Rio 2016 in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It has done that through investing strategically in the right sports, the right athletes and the right support programmes to meet its goals. UK Sport has made its complex funding decisions for this Olympic and Paralympic cycle, as in previous cycles, based on the likelihood of medal-winning performances in Tokyo in 2020. Against those fundamental criteria, basketball is sadly not yet in a position to receive funding.
However, the hon. Member for Leeds North West raised the issue of 3 on 3 funding, and I am happy to look further into that, particularly since the qualification process will not be confirmed until early next year. That will have a huge impact on the shape of the competition. Indeed, that issue was one of the key asks in his speech. I hope that I have reassured him that I will take that away.
We have established an expert body in UK Sport—it is envied around the world—to take on the funding mandate and make difficult decisions on how to deliver within that. I still believe that is important that it is not a matter of direct ministerial intervention. These long-term investments are measured and monitored against clear criteria, not my personal interests or empathy.
On the point the Minister has just made—I am grateful she will look at 3 on 3—we could be in a situation after the next Olympics where elite and Olympic sport are further away from urban communities, but in other communities, where there is hockey, canoeing and rowing, it is all around.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. That is why it is important that we continue to invest in the grassroots and community delivery. I completely empathise and sympathise with the points that he and others have made about the talent pathway. That is why we need to continue to have these conversations, particularly around 3 on 3 funding.
As other colleagues have mentioned, basketball is not the only Olympic sport that UK Sport does not fund. While I completely agree about the good opportunities it can deliver in communities—that is why we will continue to do much through grassroots development—many other sports could set out equally credible reasons to receive elite-level support on a variety of different funding criteria. Eleven governing bodies, including British Basketball, did just that most recently under the banner of “Every sport matters”. I have all 11 in mind as we consider the asks made today.
The Minister is passionate about sport and in particular about basketball, although I know she does not want to be drawn into her personal views and, as a former Minister, I fully understand that. The difference between basketball and the other sports on the list she just referred to—I have looked at it—is that basketball touches areas of the community that are not touched by those other sports. We are reaching out beyond communities such as Tottenham, where I grew up, into areas such as my constituency, where we did not traditionally have that reach. The participation across communities is not touched by those other sports. Every sport says that it is different, but basketball is clearly different.
I hope that so far in my speech I have assured colleagues that I absolutely recognise that point. It is why we look at different funding criteria for different sports across the whole activity perspective in the sports strategy. We also do that in the work we do in all Departments, whether that is to get people healthy or to get them engaged in their communities and so on. I hear what colleagues are saying, but at the same time funding criteria is set by UK Sport for the Olympics.
It is important to say that no funding criteria have been set beyond Tokyo 2020. UK Sport will begin its Paris 2024 funding cycle in due course. Criteria will be reviewed, offering the opportunity to reflect on the existing strategy of investment for the next cycle. UK Sport will then publish a clear set of investment principles against which future awards will be made. I hope that that reassures Members that this is not a closed book.
Sorry, but I cannot, otherwise I will not give the hon. Member for Leeds North West time to respond. For the current cycle, UK Sport has set a clear investment strategy, has made a long-term commitment to invest against that and is delivering against that.
I recognise that elite basketball and top-flight players can have an enormous impact on the grassroots across the country. Many colleagues have made that point. Clubs such as Brixton Topcats and those mentioned this morning can and do reach some of the most diverse young communities in the country and signpost opportunities for the most talented to follow in their footsteps. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead writes to me on how we can promote and expand basketball and what more can be done together, we will reflect on that.
I am committed to continuing to work with all the constituent bodies delivering basketball in this country and to support grassroots opportunities where they are needed. We will always consider providing elite team funding should the funding criteria be met, but this debate is not the final discussion. There is still time before the end of March. We all need to work together to ensure that we find a solution. In the meantime, we will continue to support governing bodies, clubs, satellite club providers and other bespoke local projects to support grassroots basketball across the country.
Because I have little time, I will concentrate on the Minister’s remarks. I thank her for taking on board two of my recommendations, but I want to refer to the conversations I had yesterday with UK Sport. It admitted that basketball had medal potential, but that it would take 12 years. UK Sport initially funded basketball in 2006, but that ceased in 2014. UK Sport did not see through those 12 years that it identified to me on the phone yesterday. As my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson said, funding is £102 per adult participant, which is the lowest of any team sport, even though it has the second highest participation rates. With those participation rates, it surely has Olympic potential, and UK Sport admitted as much.
A number of Members, including the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (John Grogan) and for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), mentioned the Commonwealth games. I want to highlight the letter that FIBA sent to the Minister yesterday. I received a copy. It said:
“I revert to the FIBA October letter, sent to British Basketball, that England and Scotland’s Commonwealth Games participation could still be under threat if Great Britain Basketball cannot fulfil its senior fixtures in the next windows.”
Yesterday, UK Sport said to me that GB Basketball should perhaps relook at its strategy and concentrate on the Commonwealth games. FIBA said that is not possible. I am concerned that UK Sport is luxuriating in complacency about UK basketball and does not understand the implications of its actions across the piece. An urgent discussion is needed among the Minister, possibly me, GB Basketball, Sport England, UK Sport and others, and I am glad that the Minister is committed to that. As a matter of urgency, we need to move things on so that we can save UK basketball, which is a unique sport in this country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the future of basketball in the UK.