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Was past support simply cynical window dressing?

UK SPORT has compounded its post-2012 legacy betrayal by confirming that it will no longer fund the Olympic and Paralympic campaigns of six sports.

Basketball fought to be included in the London Games but funding has now been cut by UK Sport. Picture: Getty
Basketball fought to be included in the London Games but funding has now been cut by UK Sport. Picture: Getty

The biggest, in terms of participation, is basketball. The other sports include synchronised swimming and women's water polo. Funding for elite athletes has been completely cut. So have resources for the Paralympic sports of wheelchair fencing, goalball, and five-a-side football.

The decision has provoked uproar. Basketball and swimming accuse UKS of "bias", and all six sports are considering further appeals. Short of finding private backers, their campaigns for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 seem dead in the water. Women's water polo and synchronised swimming had last year been awarded increased funding, to £8.88m. That has now been removed.

Weightlifting and badminton were the only winners in the funding review, the outcome of which was announced earlier this week.

Weighlifting doubled its grant to £1.8m, while badminton had £250,000 restored, taking total funding to £5.9m.

Basketball successfuly challenged UKS last year and managed to claw back £1.6m. Now it has been axed again. The sport jumped through hoops to ensure that an Olympic basketball tournament went ahead in London. Patrick Baumann, secretary general of the world body, FIBA, demanded a unified GB basketball body, which helped persuade - some might say force - the home governing bodies to trade independence for an Olympic place. Baumann tried to dictate the new UK body would have its offices in the 2012 venue.

Scotland, which like England and Wales had direct affiliation to FIBA, were wary, mirroring the concerns of Scottish football. Yet they gambled national identity by throwing in their lot with GB, ensuring Britain's first Olympic basketball appearance since 1948.

Less nationally entrenched Scots considered it a fantastic opportunity for legacy. Those more enlightened souls may now be seen as naive. For them, UK Sport's decision is a desperate breach of faith.

UKS will tell you they focus on disciplines which "credibly demonstrate medal-winning potential within eight years" and that it is because agreed goals have not been met, but margins are fine. For instance, France beat the British women's Olympic basketball team in the last second of overtime. And then went on to claim the silver medal.

The UKS decision suggests previous support was no more than cynical window dressing for 2012 and confirms the suspicion of little joined-up thinking in central funding policy. Synchro's funding is axed just a year after it was enhanced. How can a sport be expected to operate effectively with serial uncertainy over income?

Basketball's heartland is inner cities, often deprived areas. Innovative programmes such as midnight leagues have helped relieve social tensions and give hope to ethnic minority kids. No account is taken of the broader picture, one whose horizons embrace legacy, health and obseity, and a range of social engineering issues. Basketball's treatment will sharpen the disturbing perception that funding is driven by an establishment sympathetic to sports which are elitist, white and middle class.

Netball - not even an Olympic sport - received a 30% increase (to £25m) last year from Sport England.

In funding British sports, we attempt to compare apples with pears. Basketball is a global sport, played in 213 countries registered with FIBA, and to a significant professional level. It is vastly more difficult to become a world force or win medals than in most sports. Netball, for example, has just 50 nations in full membership of its world body, of which barely a handful are outside the Commonwealth.

In funding Olympic sports such as dressage, bobsleigh and luge, UK Sport is supporting extreme minority sport. One can defend these disciplines' right to funding, but they are demonstrably far less competitive.

Under the agreement struck over the Olympics with FIBA, a Scotland senior team exists only until 2016. The only competitive basketball opportunities for Scotland are the 2018 Commonwealth Games (the sport is not on the Glasgow programme) and an as-yet unconfirmed Nordic tournament. Sportscotland would support the sport if they qualify for 2018.

FIBA is understood to be considering a proposal which would urge national federations to concentrate on developing the women's game because they will get a return quicker and for less expenditure of resources.

There is a particularly good case for appealing to UKS to consider funding of women's basketball.

Of course, nationalist supporters would tell you this situation would not prevail were Scotland independent. Though the reality is that the sport at Scottish level has not the critical mass to be global, there is always a wild card option for major events, even world championships.

Overall, UKS support for sport is up on the cycle to 2012, but what is being sought by the ditched sports is peanuts in the global sphere of government sport funding. UKS is obsessed with medals at all costs. It is not what sports should be about and sends the wrong message about the ethos of sport.

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