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Grant Chapman: Basketball's funding cut short-sighted

opinion

By Grant Chapman

Published: 9:29AM Thursday February 07, 2013 Source: ONE Sport

Looking around a packed-out Vector Arena last Friday night, you had to wonder (again) about High Performance Sport NZ's decision to cut funding to our international basketball programme.

Who, in their wildest dreams, would ever have imagined 9157 people selling out the country's biggest indoor stadium to see a game of hoops?

Whenever that happens - and it has occurred a couple of times now for NZ Breakers fixtures - it begs the question whether we need another bigger facility that caters to Kiwis' growing appetite for, not only basketball, but other indoor sporting events that aren't just rugby, cricket and football.

It's a sign that Kiwis are continuing to expand their consciousness beyond a traditional British colonial/Pacific backwater mentality, where a few hundred diehards in a rickety old gymnasium up the hill at the Auckland YMCA was the norm.

Unfortunately, there are those who do not seem to share that vision.

Firstly, a disclaimer - in a previous job, I spent eight years employed by Basketball New Zealand, and worked closely with the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns.

So I'm obviously biased.

I was there when Sparc lowered the boom on a Ferns programme that could have been very competitive at the London Olympics last year and was on the verge of forcing change in the women's game internationally.

That's been one of the real successes of New Zealand basketball over the past 15 years - not just its giant-killing ability on the court, but its influence in the boardroom. We have gone from an Oceania minnow that no-one cared about to a nation that could be trusted to stage world championships.

Bear in mind, there are very few more powerful or prestigious sporting organisations in the world than basketball's Fiba, and this respect was hard earned.

When the Tall Blacks reached the 2002 world championship semifinals, the European-dominated governing body had to concede that other parts of the planet were catching up and it expanded the tournament from 16 to 24 teams.

It also helped convince the Aussies to let the Breakers into their league after several unsuccessful previous attempts to join.

Progress on the women's front has been slower, but the fact that the Tall Ferns had appeared at three straight Olympics without managing to crack the world championships had not gone unnoticed at head office.

They had become a very solid outfit that had just recorded their first-ever win over Australia, and it was surely only a matter of time before they and others also got their chance at an expanded tournament.

The Ferns roster that went to Beijing 2008 was young enough that most could have returned to London with invaluable Olympic experience and four more years of maturity under the belts.

With no high-performance funding, that programme has been on life support since and now we're seeing our men cast out in similar fashion.

The core of this Tall Blacks team has just helped the Breakers win two ANBL crowns and is well on their way to a third. They failed to qualify for London because two truly world-class players were injured and unavailable, but in their absence, a handful more were brought on that will help the programme going forward - if there is a forward.

To be sure, there are obvious issues that need to be sorted out, like how to get more home games for our national sides. It's hard to support a team that you never see play.

Basketball New Zealand probably needs to appoint a high performance manager, a position that has been vacant for five years now.

But these are problems that Sport NZ and HPSNZ should be helping basketball solve.

As I looked around Vector Arena last week, I kept remembering the old Sparc mantra about "winning at events that matter to New Zealand".

With huge respect to Olympic golden girl Lisa Carrington, would we ever see this many Kiwis turn up to watch canoeing? Maybe one day.

But nine thousand people in a sold-out stadium suggest that basketball really does matter to Kiwis now.

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