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Basketball (Funding)

Volume 557: debated on Monday 28 January 2013

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)

I am delighted to open this evening’s Adjournment debate on the funding of basketball in the UK. I will begin by declaring my interest as the chairman of the British Basketball League Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that co-ordinates and delivers national community basketball programmes.

The catalyst for my requesting this debate was the recent decision by UK Sport to cut the funding of basketball for the Rio 2016 Olympic games to zero. I also want to demonstrate how basketball is hugely underfunded in the UK.

In terms of grass-roots participation, basketball is incredibly popular. In the most recent Active People survey conducted by Sport England, it was estimated that just short of 153,000 people in the UK play basketball at least once a week. Basketball is the fifth most played team sport in the country and the second most played sport among 11 to 15-year-olds. In the key target area of 16 to 25-year-olds, where participation rates in all sports drop off at their fastest, basketball holds on to the highest levels of interest of all team sports.

Equally important is the demographic make-up of the sport’s participants. More than 40% of the 153,000 weekly players are from black and minority ethnic groups.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that basketball is played principally in conurbations, which is incredibly important because we need to get young people to play sport?

My hon. Friend is correct that basketball is played mainly in urban areas. In fact, among the lowest socio-economic groups in the country, basketball is the most popular sport.

Does my hon. Friend also recognise that the Plymouth Raiders, who are based in my Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport constituency, are one of the principal basketball teams in the country?

The Plymouth Raiders are an excellent basketball team. Looking around the Chamber, I can see representatives from Leicester, Newcastle and, of course, from Cheshire, so basketball is well represented here this evening.

Participation levels in basketball are very good, but we should be doing all that we can to ensure that they are exceptional.

The hon. Gentleman talked about basketball’s popularity in the black and minority ethnic community and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) mentioned urban areas. As one would expect, therefore, basketball is incredibly popular in Leicester, which has the excellent Leicester Riders. They have told me in recent days that the decision to cut the funding is absolutely wrong. I hope that the Minister listens to the representations this evening and announces a U-turn.

When the Minister replies shortly, I know that everyone in the Chamber will be looking at him with expectant eyes, hoping that he will help.

One would assume that with so many people playing basketball and given the demographic make-up of the sport’s participants, Sport England would be backing basketball with all its might. However, that assumption is misplaced. In the past month or so, when confronted about the decision to cut funding for the Olympics team to zero, the Minister has been keen to stress that England Basketball has received a substantial sum from Sport England to support the grass-roots game and talent development.

For the coming four years, Sport England has allocated £6.8 million to community programmes and the development of talent through the youth ranks. That sounds like a lot of money. However, the best way to understand the figure is to break it down into per person funding. Based on Sport England’s statistics, there is just £12 a year for each person who plays basketball once a week.

Although it is not my intention to pit sport against sport, the only fair way of judging that figure is to compare it with Sport England’s funding of other sports. Hockey, for example, has 109,000 weekly participants, yet the sport will receive £12 million over the same four years, or, using the same formula, £28 a year per player—more than twice the amount allocated to basketball. Netball has 159,000 weekly participants and it will receive £25 million, or £39 a year per player, which is more than three times the amount allocated to basketball. Finally, rugby league has 51,000 weekly participants and £17.5 million funding. That is £86 a year per player—seven times the amount allocated to basketball.

Given that basketball is the most popular team sport among BME and lower socio-economic groups, and that it carries the most interest among Sport England’s key 16 to 25-year-old market, it seems incredible that such a relatively small amount of funding is available from Sport England.

The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling argument about funding. Does he agree that not only do 16 to 25-year-olds—and beyond—benefit from investment in this sport, but children do as well, through the hoops for health programme? That is having a massive impact on school children and getting them interested in basketball from a young age, as well as teaching them about healthy lifestyles, not smoking and the other health benefits of sport.

The hon. Lady is totally correct. As basketball is so easy to play, it can be played anywhere on any bit of tarmac. It is very popular among young kids and is, I think, the second most played sport among 11 to 15-year-olds. It is easy to do, kids want to do it, and basketball teams across the country have a good reputation for going out, encouraging people to get involved, and targeting those who might not necessarily get involved in sports other than basketball.

However, if the game is to prosper in future, as it has the potential to do, a fairer funding settlement must be agreed, and I urge the Minister to meet representatives of Sport England to discuss the inherent inequality of their decision. I would also be grateful for his thoughts on whether £12 a year per player is indeed a fair settlement for basketball.

Although funding at grass-roots level is integral to any sport’s long-term success, the structure and funding of the elite game is of equal importance. In December, UK Sport announced its funding allocation for the Rio 2016 Olympic games. After receiving £8.6 million for London 2012, the GB team has not been allocated a single penny for Rio. After making incredible progress over the previous funding cycle, the rug has been pulled from under the British basketball team. Unless that decision is reversed, elite British basketball will once again have to start from scratch.

The hon. Gentleman is making very good points. When I visit primary schools in my Newcastle constituency, the hoops for health programme mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) is often spoken about with great praise, admiration and enthusiasm. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that being able to see top-class players such as those who play for the Newcastle super Eagles is important? It is even more important to see such players at the Olympics, as that would help inspire young people in my constituency and across the country.

The hon. Lady is right. Over the past two or three years some world-class players have come forward—probably the best basketball player in the world at the moment is a Brit, and I will come to him later.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that one great thing that took place last year was cage cricket? Sir Ian Botham came along and showed us how we could do that sport. We should be doing exactly that sort of thing—by taking small cages we could end up playing these games in places such as inner cities.

Again, my hon. Friend is correct. At the moment, there are schemes in which temporary basketball pitches are put up in town centres so that the game can be played in the middle of the town. I understand—I am looking at the chair of the all-party group on basketball, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson)—that in summer people will be able to go to Trafalgar square and do some hoops—[Interruption.] Yes, shoot the hoops. The basketball game is very conscious of that, and it is a good way of getting young people involved and enthused by the sport. Our problem is that UK Sport funding is based on what it considers to be each team’s realistic chances of gaining a medal or a top eight finish in Rio or the 2020 games.

The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time. Is not the real challenge that the formula for deciding funding has been an overwhelming success, and changing it might end up jeopardising some of our success in other sports?

My hon. Friend has a point. I can be fairly relaxed about taking interventions because I think I can stand here until 10 pm tonight, although I reassure the Minister that I will not take quite that long. I have reservations about the funding process, on which I know the Minister has recently commented. A couple of weeks ago in The Sunday Times he expressed doubts about how the current funding process works; going for medal positions and the top eight in the Olympics may not be the right way forward. I do not argue that the whole process should be scrapped and restarted for all sports, but I do argue that with the right funding, the Great Britain basketball team has every chance of a top eight finish at Rio, and even greater potential for success in 2020.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. Does he agree that there may be scope for looking at team sports, as opposed to individual sports, slightly differently? Individual sports currently get an awful lot of the funding.

The competitive situation of team games at the Olympics tends to be more difficult in terms of the number of people who play. Every country in the world plays basketball, but some of the more successful sports in the UK have a more limited pool of participants. Perhaps there are arguments for looking at team sports slightly differently from individual sports. My point, however, is that Great Britain basketball has a fantastic opportunity in 2016 and 2020. Will the Minister explain how UK Sport has assessed the Great Britain team’s potential for success in Rio and beyond? Who was consulted during that assessment, and what reasons were behind the conclusion?

Does my hon. Friend recognise that Plymouth college—which, I discovered the other day, would be 49th as a country in numbers of gold and Olympic medals—is willing to offer some of the state schools just outside or in my constituency the opportunity to use some of their people, including their basketball people? Should we not be encouraging private schools to go off and help state schools in that way?

My hon. Friend is correct. Basketball is a game that includes everybody and more people should get involved. Given what he says, it sounds as if Plymouth college is doing a fantastic job to get people into the game and playing sport, which I am sure is what we in this Chamber all want.

My argument about UK Sport and its decision to remove funding from basketball is that the facts do not add up. Since UK Sport funding for basketball was initiated, both the men’s and women’s teams have gone from the bottom rung of the international ladder to being some of the most respected teams in Europe. At London 2012, the men were one basket away from achieving their UK Sport quarter final target, and they recorded an historic 32-point win against China, which was ranked 10th in the world. They lost by just one point to eventual silver medallists, Spain, and they almost beat Brazil, which finished fifth overall at the Olympics. These results were unthinkable just four years ago, and demonstrate not only the huge progress that has been made, but the potential for basketball in the future.

In addition to their collective achievements, the number of individual star talents in the GB team is growing all the time. Chicago Bulls superstar Luol Deng is one of the greatest sports stars in the world and one of the hugely successful British players currently plying their trade in the greatest league in the world, the NBA. He has written to the Prime Minister to protest against UK Sport’s decision, and I hope that the Minister has seen his letter. What message are we sending to young British basketball players who aspire to similar greatness if we do not fund our national team?

My hon. Friend is coming to the crux of the matter. If we are to encourage young people, in whichever sport, we need a broad-based pyramid to get the elite players at the top. Without that pyramid, boys and girls will not participate.

My hon. Friend is correct. I am not talking only about the men’s team, but about the women’s team and the youth team.

The women’s team was the youngest team at the Olympics. It almost beat the silver medallists France, and was narrowly defeated by fourth-placed Russia. That is stunning progress from a team which came together only a few years ago. I also want to quickly mention the British youth men’s team, who just last week won bronze at the Australian youth Olympic festival, demonstrating the strength that we have coming down the pipeline.

For UK Sport to categorically state that neither adult team has any hope of medals is hugely disappointing. It ignores the enormous progress that has been made over the previous one and a half funding cycles, and it consigns British Olympic basketball to the scrapheap for the foreseeable future. How is the British national team expected to progress further and to bid for future funding if UK Sport is removing any chance of success in the short and medium term?

Furthermore, the Minister’s recent assertion that the Great Britain basketball teams are unlikely to qualify for either Rio or the 2020 games also looks to be wrong. For example, the men’s team has qualified for the 2013 European championships, and because it has risen significantly in the world rankings over the past 12 months it has avoided a number of the higher ranked teams in the group stage draw. It now has every chance of qualifying through to the next round. As a result, Rio qualification is a real possibility, and choosing to write the team off at this stage would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

I also understand that the Minister has expressed some concerns about the administration of the game and the ability of the governing body to deliver. To my knowledge, and to the knowledge of British Performance Basketball, there has never been any past criticism of its performance, structures or business model. I am sure that the Minister will understand the concern felt by British Performance Basketball, so before it makes any official appeal to UK Sport, it would be grateful to know if those comments were in fact directed at it, and if so, what it has done wrong and what it needs to do to improve. I would be very grateful if the Minister could cast some clarity on this very important matter.

I know that the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West would like to make a brief contribution to this debate, and I hope that I have left her sufficient time to do so. An hour and 40 minutes should be enough —[Laughter.] I would like to stress that, as I am sure the Minister will appreciate, the breadth of these arguments means that they warrant far more attention than the time afforded to them in an Adjournment debate. I hope that he will consent to meet representatives of British basketball as soon as possible, so that they can gain some clarity on what exactly they need to do in the future. There are a lot of unanswered questions and a great deal of confusion surrounding these decisions. The whole of the British basketball community would be very, very grateful for the Minister’s support in the crucial weeks ahead.

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley)—I want to call him my hon. Friend—on securing this important debate. We work together closely on the topic of basketball. I am the chair of the all-party group on basketball, and he is my excellent vice-chair. I am also a trustee on the board of the British Basketball League Foundation, which he chairs. I thank other hon. Members from both sides of the House who are members of that fantastic all-party group for showing their commitment to the cause and being here in force tonight.

I endorse everything the hon. Gentleman said and will not seek to repeat the many excellent points he made, even though we have the time available. Needless to say, I too am deeply disappointed by the decisions, both new and historic, that have led to this debate. Basketball is important, both in my constituency and across the country, because it reaches a demographic that few sports can. It is dynamic and accessible, and its natural ties to urban culture give it a street credibility others sorely lack. It is no wonder that it is as popular as the hon. Gentleman described. Basketball was consistently one of the most viewed events at the Olympics and Paralympics; 7,500 fans turned out to see the Newcastle Eagles, my local team, play in the BBL cup final earlier this month; and just the other week, 17,000 people packed out the O2 arena to watch an NBA game, which by all accounts was fantastic.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate. I had not realised that we had a little extra time, so I tried to be as quick as possible with my previous intervention—

I will try, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I have attended a few of the Newcastle Eagles’ games, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) will share my enthusiasm for the amazing family-friendly atmosphere at them. Everybody should experience it as it is quite something.

That is an excellent point, and I am sure that other hon. Members who are here to support basketball will agree with my hon. Friend. I was at one of the matches that she attended with her young children, and they were running around and thoroughly enjoying the game in a very safe environment. Anyone going to basketball for the first time falls in love with it, because it is so exciting and fast. I know that my appearance now does not give the impression of an elite basketball player, but in my youth I played at school with some enthusiasm and have loved it ever since. It is very exciting to play and to watch.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate. I wish to add my voice to that of my hon. Friends. I have also attended the matches of the Newcastle super Eagles and I have been to St James’s Park to watch Newcastle United play. The family atmosphere at the basketball matches is striking and visitors of all ages are welcomed and supported. This is made possible in part because of the elite players, and they need to be supported to the Rio Olympics and beyond.

As we have heard, basketball is an inclusive and accessible sport that is often found at the heart of some of the best community projects. The hoops for health programme run by the Newcastle Eagles in my constituency and across the north-east, with professional players encouraging young people to get active, has no funding from Sport England. Sport England does not target that age group, despite the recent observation from Baroness Campbell, the chair of UK Sport, that 20% of pupils aged five are overweight. The statistics get worse as those children get older.

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, and clearly I will be winding up the debate. Just to be clear, Sport England is not allowed to intervene that far down the process. It is tied by the lottery additionality rules, so there is no way it can invest: it would be against the law and it would break all the lottery rules.

I thank the Minister for that clarification. Basketball is not an established sport, so it is fair to say, as the hon. Member for City of Chester described, that it tends to be at the back of the line when funding gets divvied up. In terms of the elite level, the House has also heard about the massive strides made by Great Britain’s men and women basketball teams within just one Olympic cycle. I share his doubts about a process that could write off their hopes for 2016 on that basis. I hope the Minister will be able to shed some light on that.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again; she is being very generous. On the hoops for health programme, I appreciate that Sport England does not give funding for that age group. Does she agree, however, that Sport England should recognise that the funding and effort that goes in at that younger age produces the athletes of the future, and that without it they cannot become elite players?

That is the key point, which I will move on to. We were promised that the London Olympics would inspire a generation, but which part of that generation are we going to inspire? That question matters because how we distribute that money for sport—whoever is distributing it and under whichever rules—says a lot about what sort of society we want to be. UK Sport’s no compromise policy inadvertently, yet knowingly, punishes team sports for being accessible, as they are more globally competitive.

If the Minister could hear my point out. If a sport is more globally competitive, the medal hopes for Team GB will be lower. I applaud the successes of sports such as rowing, sailing and equestrian—obviously, we all do—but we need to find a balance between rewarding “easier” success on a global level and taking into consideration the wider societal positives that accessible team sports, such as basketball, provide to our local communities.

I am terribly sorry, but I cannot let the hon. Lady get away with saying that it is easier to win a gold medal at rowing or sailing than it is for basketball. [Interruption.] She did definitely say that we should not fund sports that are easier to get a medal in. She should see the sheer exertion that young men and women go through to win a rowing gold medal—they are up at six o’clock every morning, day in, day out. I appreciate her concerns, but it is unfair to run down other sports on the back of them. She did say that.

Order. We are in danger of straying off the point. The debate is purely about funding for basketball. I understand that there will be examples, but I think we have taken the example a little bit beyond where we should be. I am sure that the hon. Lady will come right back on the subject of funding for basketball.

The wider point I was making was about the global accessibility of basketball. I was not decrying any sports, but globally there are fewer people playing a sport such as clay pigeon shooting, so it may be easier, in the sense of numbers, to win a medal at that sport—there are not as many competitors, because it is not as accessible. Perhaps I did not explain it correctly.

Order. Maybe I could be helpful and say that we are not comparing like with like. That is the danger in where we are going. I want to get back to where we should be.

Thank you ever so much, Mr Deputy Speaker. You certainly made the point I was trying to make and I thank you for that.

I admit that it may be a difficult task to get a medal in Rio but, when we look at how far basketball has come in just six years, it is by no means impossible. More importantly, how much will not having at least a decent showing in Rio further damage a sport that is also suffering from cutbacks in grass-roots and talent funding?

All we are looking for is fairness: fairness for the young boy or girl in Sunderland, Newcastle, Merseyside, Leicester, Chester, Plymouth and so on who loves basketball because it is of the cities and of the street. It is cool and it is urban, and they idolise basketball superstars across the world from other countries because our national team is not as prominent as it should and could be.

I would like to end by quoting Luol Deng’s letter to the Prime Minister, which the hon. Member for City of Chester mentioned. With the indulgence of the House, I shall read it into the record, seeing as we have a few minutes to spare:

“Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you following the news that we, as Team GB, have had our funding completely cut which has been deeply upsetting and confusing to say the least.

My initial reaction was to try and understand why and how if by any means I could help to change this. The UK has given so much to my family and I, the honour and pride I’ve felt to play for Team GB over the last 5 years has been something words really can’t explain. Looking back to when we started, it’s incredible how far the team has come; so many people have worked too hard for this to happen now.

I truly feel like we are starting to put British Basketball on the map and we are now being taken seriously on the world stage. Taking myself and the other guys out of the equation, what about the future generation? Do not underestimate the fan base that this sport has in the UK. It’s a sport that kids can relate to and a sport that should be easily accessible when all you need is some concrete, two hoops and a ball! We all heard about the ‘legacy’ that London 2012 was going to bring to sport in the UK and I refuse to sit back and let that legacy be completely demolished for basketball. I along with thousands of other people involved with the game have put too much in and care too greatly to let this happen.”

Does the hon. Lady recognise the importance of media interest? I must declare an interest in that my brother is a cricket commentator for Sky TV. That broadcaster has invested a lot of money and effort in grass-roots sport, especially among youngsters, and, in places such as Plymouth, which has a brilliant cricket club, has done an enormous amount of very good work.

I agree, and I hope that media interest will be raised by this debate.

The hon. Gentleman’s intervention came in the middle of Luol Deng’s letter, so I shall return to it. It will look rather odd in Hansard, I am sure, but if you will bear with me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will continue:

“My UK Foundation aims to help basketball, to help people not only get into the sport but to also help those more capable players develop their skills and achieve their goals of becoming a professional player. The sport of basketball is a pathway, a pathway that teaches so many valuable lessons on and off the court, how are we supposed to motivate these kids to carry along their journey when there’s now nothing at the end? No Team GB, no Olympic dream, no goal. You’re allowing a sport to be greatly harmed; a sport that can bring so much to so many and I won’t accept it. The sport needs more input from other resources I totally agree, but then let’s force the sport as a whole to live up to its promises and its potential but we need this funding in order for that to happen. As I said I get to see first hand what this sport can do for kids in the UK and it’s too valuable to just be chucked away.

There is a petition being circulated, which I have signed”—

I have signed it, too—

“and will encourage as many people as I can to do the same. I’ve been told about and shown examples of other letters that you and other members will have received detailing all the facts and figures relevant to the growth of the sport, of which there are many, but I wanted you to hear first hand from someone who came through the grass roots basketball system and from someone who knows what talent the UK has to offer in the sport of basketball. I also want to share with you one fact that I was given when this news came out—basketball participation for 11-15 year olds is at 27% which is 2nd only to football, this is the time to be supporting such a statistic not wiping it out.

I have asked that this letter also be sent to everyone connected to the decision and next week’s appeal with UK Sport. Again, too much has been achieved for this to happen.

I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Kind regards,

Luol Deng”.

That is quite a powerful letter from a world-famous sportsman. I hope that the Minister will give back to everyone involved in basketball in Great Britain their Olympic dream.

Very briefly, I would like to put on record my appreciation for my constituents Mr John Lloyd and his son Mr Mark Lloyd, who over the years have contributed nationally and locally to the development, growth and success of basketball. On their behalf, I hope that they will be able to continue doing that.

One of the great delights in last year’s Olympics was the breadth of sports in which Britain won medals. We won medals at sports in which, only a few Olympics back, Britain’s participants did their best, but never came within a whisker of winning a medal. It is a credit to the Olympic movement in this country that that breadth of sports has developed.

Let me finish on the point I raised in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley). To my mind, the Olympic legacy is the participation of as many young people as possible in sport. We all know that basketball, with a court set up in the corner of a playing field or across the full pitch, attracts youngsters in numbers, particularly in urban communities. If there are international and national figures whom they can look up to and aspire to be, the pyramid of participation will widen. Whatever the sport, the wider the base of the sporting pyramid, the better chance we have of seeing the pinnacle—the elite athlete—come through. Therefore, the withdrawal of funding is short-sighted. We only have to compare our record in the London Olympics with what happened five, six or seven Olympics back to see how dramatically Britain’s sporting success has increased across the spectrum. To a large extent that is about funding, as well as the enthusiasm of the various sporting organisations. I hope it will be possible for those responsible for funding basketball to realise that mass participation is part of the Olympic legacy for our young people.

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on initiating this debate, which is timely and important for basketball in this country.

I should declare several interests, none of which is remunerated. First, I am a trustee of the British Basketball League Foundation, which the hon. Gentleman chairs. Secondly, I am a member of the all-party basketball group, which my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) chairs. Thirdly, I am a supporter of the Mersey Tigers—which was a great thing to do two seasons ago, as they won every bit of silverware in sight. Sadly, they have since been less successful, mainly as a result of financial difficulties. Last but by no means least, my grandson Luke plays basketball for his school and for a non-school side in the area. In fact, he played earlier this evening—unfortunately I have no idea what the outcome of the game was, because he has not sent me a text. I therefore have a number of reasons, both personal and to do with my involvement with various bodies, to support basketball.

I want to make three points—I will try to be brief. The first is a general point—it has been made by several hon. Friends, as well as the hon. Member for City of Chester—about the impact that the sport can have on specific communities. Basketball is a very inclusive sport. People do not have to have a lot of expensive equipment to play basketball or be associated with a club that might have difficult membership requirements; nor does it require massive support—it does require support, but not massive support—at the grass-roots level.

A further point that has been made is that young participants, male and female, gain great health benefits from their involvement in the sport, no matter what level they play at. A number of health authorities of one kind or another have recognised that and have supported clubs that have been successful in building up grass-roots support. If we are to be successful in basketball nationally and internationally, the first requirement will be to build up that grass-roots support. Nothing comes from nothing, and we will succeed at elite level only if we can get youngsters from the ages of eight, nine and 10 onwards to participate in the sport. That model has worked well in other sports, and it is no different for basketball, except that basketball reaches parts of the community that other sports might not.

That is not just my opinion as a Member of Parliament or as a grandfather with an involvement in the sport. If we look at the successful clubs—particularly Leicester and Newcastle, but also the Cheshire Jets—we see that they are sustained by the activity that takes place at grass-roots level, especially among young people. That is particularly important, and I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is the kind of successful model that we want to build.

The right hon. Gentleman will probably be aware of the problems that the Cheshire Jets had, and of the launch of a new club, Cheshire Phoenix, in November. The new club has real community support: it is community owned and community based, and it took a real team effort from the entire city and county to get it going. It is a brand new club with huge aspirations and a huge amount of support. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the support that those other clubs have, but Cheshire Phoenix has it as well.

I must inadvertently have referred to the team as the Cheshire Jets, because I was aware of the developments that had taken place. I wish the Mersey Tigers well, but I hope that Cheshire Phoenix does well too. We are all from more or less the same part of the world.

The successful clubs demonstrate the fact that, with vibrant grass-roots support, it is possible to build a successful professional club and that, beyond that, we can build a successful national sport and perform well internationally. That brings me to my point about the decision, based on the estimate of our Olympic prospects in Brazil, which I think was wrong. I do not intend to labour the point, but I hope that those responsible will revisit the subject, because if they do, they will recognise that the route to qualifying for Brazil includes European qualification, and that there is a demonstrably strong chance that the UK team could qualify by going down that route. The team’s potential for qualification has been underestimated. I understand that the issue of governance has also been raised, but I have yet to receive any explanation of why that might be the case. The Minister and I had a brief discussion about this last week, and I hope that we will be able to find out more about what is at issue. There might have been a misreading of the true situation in the sport.

I know that the Minister cares passionately about sport, and that he is a fair-minded man. I also know—because he told me so—that his powers of intervention are limited in these matters. I accept that, but he does have considerable influence and I hope that he will use that to question the basis on which some of those decisions have been made. I also hope that, in a quiet and unassuming but effective way, he will be able to encourage those responsible to reconsider their decision as a matter of urgency.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate and on the manner in which he presented his case. This was actually going to be the third thing I intended to say, but it is probably worth saying it now. I shall proceed with certain amount of caution tonight. The appeal is due in front of the UK Sport board—on Wednesday, I believe—but that, in any event, is not the end of the process, as there are a number of further hurdles over which progress could be made. If the terms of the appeal are right—many points made tonight will, I suspect, form part of the appeal—it strikes me that there will be a case that will provoke some further thought. Let me go no further than that. Tonight’s debate does come at a slightly delicate moment.

I have a couple of other points to frame my remarks before I answer some of the specific questions raised. First, it is important—I hope hon. Members will forgive me for making this point—to frame this debate against the fact that this system works. This country’s elite performance system is the envy of almost every other Olympic system in the world. Back in Sydney, we were 10th in the medal table with 28 medals; here we are in London, 12 years later, third with 65 medals. The Australians would kill for this sort of system, as would many others. People in this country are looking at how we did it and trying to work out the processes we adopted. I know from talking to many Australians that they feel they will have to be much tougher and come far closer to our no-compromise approach if they are to catch up some of the ground they feel they have lost.

I was talking to a forum of performance directors this morning. Knowing that I would be responding to this Adjournment debate, I said, “Let me road test this on you. Have we got this right? Have we gone too far, and do we need to crank it back?” They said, “Absolutely not.” They felt that the way the funding awards were made this year was the fairest and most robust method they had been put through. These were performance directors who had done this for a number of years, and they had nothing but praise for the way in which they had been guided through the system by UK Sport and the results that had been reached. I absolutely understand the passion expressed about a sport for which many Members care deeply, but that needs to be balanced with the fact that the performance system for a country of our size has just produced 65 medals and third place in the Olympic medal table. That is an extraordinary success by anybody’s standards.

Let me deal quickly with a couple of other points. The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) is absolutely correct: I can set the overall strategy for UK Sport, and indeed I do, but it is not up to me to make individual funding decisions within that, because about two thirds of the money that goes to any of these funding awards is lottery money. As anyone who has been in this House for any length of time will know, that is not for Ministers to direct.

My other point is that funding, although I would wish it otherwise in this area, is not inexhaustible. We have done very well to increase the overall budget for Olympic and Paralympic sport by 11%—the only host nation ever to achieve that—and for the Rio cycle, but that does not mean that we can avoid taking tough decisions. This has been one of them. Having been through the decision-making process with UK Sport—it took me through it and Sport England was there, too, so we could look at both funding settlements together—I know it has a chart, and the question is about the point at which we slice up and down the funding pole. That is done by UK Sport on the basis of medal success in Rio.

Let me run through the various issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester. He asked whether I had met UK Sport, and indeed Sport England. I see both chief executives every month, and I spent close to three hours with both organisations going through the two funding awards.

Although I take on board the comments that have been made, UK Sport made the decision on the basis that basketball had failed to demonstrate a realistic chance of qualifying for Rio 2016, or medal potential for 2020. Basketball may be on a fast improving pathway, but the men’s and women’s teams won only one of the 10 games that they contested at the London Olympics, which is not a great performance record.

How are such decisions made? GB Basketball puts a submission forward that goes to UK Sport, and it is then considered by a performance panel with independents on it. Each and every aspect is considered. Other performance directors I spoke to today said that was the best iteration they had been through in a number of cycles. The process is incredibly detailed, and considers not only medal potential for Rio but for 2020. For Rio, the line was drawn at a point where the basketball team needed to medal, which might explain the slight discrepancy in relation to qualification.

On the governance structure, it might be easier to nail down the issues in writing. I have been involved in sport as a politician since 2004 when the Conservative party was in opposition. Throughout that time, basketball has been a frustration because it has obvious and enormous potential, as many of the contributions to this debate have acknowledged. It is a sport that can reach into communities in a way that some other sports cannot, yet it somehow fails to catch alight. That may be because people who play basketball do not always respond to the active people survey, so participation levels are underplayed. There may also have been weaknesses in the structure of the sport.

Netball is a fantastic example of a sport that, from difficult beginnings, has increased its participation base extraordinarily. I have visited schemes run for school- gate mothers in places such as Leicester, to try to get more young women back into the sport. As a result, netball has been rewarded with a considerable increase in funding.

The key question is: what does basketball need to do? I have not yet met him, but I am told that there is a very good new independent chairman. A huge amount of fuss and bother is what impresses people least, so the best thing he can do is take a long, hard, clinical look at the sport of basketball—I hope that many of the hon. Members who have shown enthusiasm for the sport in the debate tonight will play a part—and look at team sports that have tackled this situation successfully. He should look at how cycling has put half a million people on its performance base, and at what netball, a team sport, has done. There must be some transferable lessons from netball to basketball. There is enormous performance-based expertise, which has driven this country from 10th in the medal table to third, so he should make use of the experts in academia and UK Sport, and turn the sport inside out.

There is this hope: although the initial funding decisions have been made and announced, there is an appeal process, and if basketball presents the right case, it will have a perfectly good chance of securing funding. This is not the end of the story, and if the basketball team starts to perform and show that it is likely to qualify, and has the chance of a medal in 2016 or 2020, wherever that turns out to be after the IOC decision this summer, there will be the opportunity to fund it.

I leave the House with the story of gymnastics. I have seen representatives of that sport recently. Its funding was cut—almost completely removed—after a disastrous Olympics in Athens, where the competitors were basically washed out. Gymnastics is a different sport from basketball, but its position is not entirely different. Those people went back and engaged in a long “dig-out” to discover what was required to ensure that the young athletes whom we all see in gyms in our constituencies could turn into Olympic medal-winners in the future. They turned the sport inside out, and established a really tough performance-based culture. The result was plain to see in London, where gymnastics was not only one of the great successes, but arguably one of the most unexpected.

As for the social aspect, I entirely accept the point about basketball’s social reach. However, we do not confine our funding to sports that have a reach of that kind, such as athletics, cycling and, in particular, boxing, which was one of the great successes of London 2012 and which has a huge reach into deprived communities in inner cities. I can reassure Members that UK Sport makes its decisions on the basis of performance.

I have been involved—not as a politician—in amateur boxing for a number of years in my constituency. In many ways the comparison made by the Minister is a good one, but the difference between amateur boxing and basketball is that most local clubs are long-established and have a lengthy tradition on which to draw, whereas basketball is in the process of getting there, but is not there yet.

That is a fair point. I suspect that it backs up the one I made earlier about the need to take a long hard look at the structure and get it absolutely right. Incidentally, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman’s grandson won his game, and that, if he did, the right hon. Gentleman will convey all our best wishes to him.

Let me end where I started. I thank the hon. Member for City of Chester on initiating the debate, and congratulate him on his speech. I also congratulate all the other Members who have spoken.

I want sport in this country to be successful, and I want basketball to be as successful as rowing, cycling, sailing or of any of the other more obviously successful Olympic sports. It would probably be overdoing it to be say that basketball has had a troubled past, but the fact that it has not taken off has been a source of great frustration to all of us who are involved in it. However, it occurs to me that this may be a moment of opportunity. I am sure that if the new chairman is really prepared to take on the task of sorting out the governance of the sport and ensuring that there are people who understand participation and the performance expertise that drives success at the top end, and if he can take that case to UK Sport and prove that we have a good chance of medalling in basketball in Rio or in the 2020 games, UK Sport will reconsider its decision.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.