- National Teams
British Basketball Federation Chair Chris Grant has called the organisation’s position “untenable and unsustainable” in an open letter published on Twitter on Tuesday.
Ahead of the GB Senior Women embarking on their EuroBasket campaign, Grant went public with his views pointing to drastic underfunding of the sport and challenges of being a federation without any full time employees.
“There’s a limit to what the National Federation of a major sport can do with ZERO full-time employees,” he wrote in the letter, first revealed in The Guardian.
“That’s the situation I discovered when I started in this role, and it explains why there’s been a kind of vicious circle over the last few years. Our struggle to fulfil some of the basic requirements of a National Governing Body have led to a loss of trust from important stakeholders, such as the media and UK Sport.
… We’re doing our best, but the position we’re in is untenable and unsustainable.”
His letter was released on the same day the launch of OTT platform gbbasketball.tv which he calls on people to subscribe to with the hope of showing basketball in the UK is a not a niche sport.
It is a familiar story for the sport, which has been chronically underfunded but also mismanaged over the years, as Grant – who is nine months into the role – revealed personal health challenges that could see him stepping down – potentially adding to the revolving turnstile of BBF board members since London 2012.
My Letter: onwards and upwards – together! 🇬🇧🏀 pic.twitter.com/ihrvhxJutA
— Chris Grant OBE (@chrisgrant14a) June 13, 2023
The full letter can be read below:
Dear Participants, Fans and Friends of British Basketball,
I’m writing to seek your help.
Not for me, but for our sport, which is at a critical crossroads.
Last week, a number of amazing and important things happened: Basketball’s leaders from all parts of Britain came together to give our remarkable senior women the best possible send-off for their FIBA EuroBasket campaign, starting this Thursday in Slovenia. Levels of unity and enthusiasm not seen since 2012 were on display as this “Ballers’ Parliament” endorsed “The GB Way”. We set out a roadmap for success on and off the court, to claim our rightful status as a world power in both 5v5 and 3X3 by the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. The gathering unanimously welcomed the unveiling of gbbasketball.tv – a ground-breaking partnership which will provide unprecedented access for fans to watch our senior and age group teams, and also generate desperately-needed resources.
The fact that the gbbasketball.tv logo will be on our teams’ jerseys this Summer fulfils one of the main resolutions I made when I became Chair of the Federation seven months ago: that our women would not suffer the same fate in their EuroBasket tournament as our men last year, when we were the only nation without a headline sponsor. Another massive priority now fulfilled is that we’ll send all six age group teams to their tournaments this Summer, without asking players’ families to pay for the privilege of representing their country.
Our senior men now have the opportunity to regroup and rebuild under the leadership of Head Coach, Marc Steutel, and Team Manager, Dan Clark – both appointed through a fair and competitive process, involving all the Home Countries. Meanwhile, our women – who have broken into the global top 20 rankings, and made the semi-finals last time they went to EuroBasket – have the immediate opportunity to continue on the path to the Paris ’24 Olympics. Once again, we’re defying the odds stacked against us.
So GB Basketball is on the up, but there’s a real danger that a lack of capacity will cause us to blow this golden opportunity and – yet again – fail to do justice to the talent and commitment of our players.
Don’t get me wrong: I respect and admire the effort put in by an amazing pool of volunteers (not least the BBF Board); the coaches and staff we’ve been able to bring in on short-term contracts and the Home Country leaders and personnel who have carried out key tasks – all supported by a loyal and energetic group of fans. But there’s a limit to what the National Federation of a major sport can do with ZERO full-time employees. That’s the situation I discovered when I started in this role, and it explains why there’s been a kind of vicious circle over the last few years. Our struggle to fulfil some of the basic requirements of a National Governing Body have led to a loss of trust from important stakeholders, such as the media and UK Sport. In turn, this has severely limited our ability to grow the basketball economy and exploit our powerful and unique assets and advantages ….
….and we know that our Basketball assets and advantages really are powerful and unique!
We’re the second most-played team sport in Britain; one of the biggest markets for the NBA in Europe, and produce a steady stream of players with the talent to succeed at the highest levels. We have a unique crossover with youth culture; music and fashion, and at the same time are blessed with a thriving “Masters” scene for older players. Our fan base is the most diverse I’ve ever seen in any sporting or cultural context whether defined by age, race, class or gender, and I defy anyone to walk through their neighbourhood or take a bus or train without seeing people wearing basketball-related brands and clothing. Our clubs and fan-led media provide shining examples of the kind of entrepreneurialism that the UK desperately needs right now – with both economic and social outcomes.
I could go on, but here’s the point: despite all this, the main response I’ve had from funders and media when I’ve asked them to get behind us is that we’re a “niche” sport. The same people who have invested many times more than the BBF’s total annual budget in securing rights to show the NBA or funding sports like sailing or shooting. The same people who pay lip service to the need to engage “hard-to-reach” groups and contribute to educational outcomes and community cohesion dismiss Basketball as peripheral or incidental.
I have no interest in pointing fingers at anyone. Indeed, we’ve acquired a bit of a reputation for blaming others, but for the last few months, we’ve diverted that energy into using our tiny resource to build robust systems and processes; to get fully behind our teams; to support our leagues, and to secure that gbbasketball.tv deal – the first of many!
The reason why I’m writing to you now is that we’re at the most important crossroads for GB basketball since 2012, and we need your help. I urge you to take a look at gbbasketball.tv; to sign up if you can, and to encourage family, friends, club-members and anyone you know to join you. Every subscription not only supports GB Basketball, but also shows those who still see us as “niche” that they couldn’t be more wrong.
This isn’t about me, but I need to add a short personal note. I took on this role following some fairly hefty health challenges last year, and it has been much closer to a 7 days per week CEO / Chair job than the 2 days per month volunteer position that was advertised. I’ve carried on up to this point – despite the negative personal impact – because GB Basketball is massively important. We’re making real progress, but we could so easily slip back into another cycle of under-achievement. Right now, as well as pulling out all the stops to support our teams, we should be preparing our submission for the run-up to the 2028 Olympics. We’re doing our best, but the position we’re in is untenable and unsustainable.
I’ll decide over the coming weeks whether I can stay to see this through, but my final request at this stage is that – whatever happens – you’ll do what you can to continue to unite and uplift British Basketball. Let’s all wear what Coach Chema Buceta, in Slovenia right now with our GB Women, refers to as our “positive glasses”.
Chris Grant OBE