David Lammy has asked an MPs’ debate about funding for basketball if discrimination plays a part in the game’s relative lack of public support when compared to other, more middle-class sports.
The debate on the sport’s future was arranged by Alex Sobel MP, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for basketball, and Lammy’s was the key intervention in a lively and well-attended 90-minute session in Westminster Hall.
In a series of points directed at sports minister Tracey Crouch, the Labour MP for Tottenham said basketball was a largely black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) sport in this country, and was popular in disadvantaged, urban communities.
Lammy asked Crouch why it is that sports such as canoeing, cycling, equestrian, hockey, rowing and rugby league “all do so much better” in terms of public funding than “this urban sport”.
“Where is the equity in that formula?” he asked. “Can she satisfy herself that there is no unintended or unconscious bias in the way that judgements are being made about that funding?”
Crouch did not address Lammy’s question about bias – despite other MPs raising it, too – when she spoke towards the end of the debate but did commit to a review of how elite sport is funded after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
She also said she would ask elite funding agency UK Sport to reconsider the case for funding the new Olympic format of 3-on-3 basketball as the sport’s international federation, FIBA, has yet to announce the qualification process for Tokyo.
These promises met two of the three commitments Sobel, the Labour MP for Leeds North West, asked for in his opening speech.But Crouch did not agree to his first plea – funding for Great Britain’s eight men’s, women’s and age-group teams for the next three seasons – although she did say “this debate is not the finale of this discussion - we still have time to find a solution”.
That time is running out, though, as British Basketball needs £1m a year to enable the teams to fulfil their international fixtures but only has £100,000 guaranteed after March. Grassroots funding agency Sport England does fund the sport at the bottom of the pyramid but its temporary support for the international age-group teams is about to run out.
UK Sport has refused to fund basketball ever since London 2012, as it believes the sport lacks medal potential, which is the key to unlocking its support.
Sobel, however, said that British basketball, particularly the fast-improving women’s team, has medal potential in 12 years.
Crouch defended UK Sport’s “no compromise” approach, saying it has hauled the GB Olympic and Paralympic teams up the medal table and is the envy of many foreign counterparts.
She added that she did not think decisions about which sports to fund – and basketball is one of 11 which has been cut off – were a matter for “direct ministerial intervention”.