Scotland basketball face impossible task against Australia – and the future of their game
When Scotland’s men’s basketball team take to the court in their Commonwealth Games semi-final against Australia, they do so not only up against the hosts, but the future of their domestic game.
No one expected them to get this far and no one expects them to go any further but boy, what a ride it has been.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Scotland will take on the mighty Australia, the hosts of these 2018 Commonwealth Games, for a place in the men’s basketball final.
It follows an extraordinary and so-far unbeaten run, which has seen Scotland defy the odds to top their group ahead of England, Cameroon and India and beat the higher-ranked Nigeria in the playoffs.
That was where the journey was supposed to end, but rather than conform to pre-match predictions, the Scots starred, racing to a 12 point-lead at the break before closing it out 66-61.
A guaranteed medal is only a game away and yet, it couldn’t look further from sight. Australia are not only the hosts, but have a far, far deeper history and cultural association with basketball than the Scots will ever have.
For context, basketball has appeared at the Commonwealth Games twice; this year on the Gold Coast and back in 2006 in Melbourne, the last time the games were held in Australia.
The sport is one of the most popular in the country, with a number of Australian nationals currently plying their trade in the NBA (though, to their opponents’ collective relief, those international players are not competing on the Gold Coast this year).
Comparatively, Scotland did not choose to include basketball in its lineup for Glasgow 2014. This was hardly a surprise; the sport receives little to no attention domestically, with Glasgow Rocks being the sole Scottish representative in the 12-team British Basketball League.
And yet, basketball is actually one of the most played in the country. It ranks well, significantly behind football but comparable with rugby or tennis, in participation tables for boys aged 8-15. There is potential there for growth, but there has been for some time. So why is the sport struggling to gain momentum?
It all comes down to the wider issue of funding, a problem which affects the rest of the UK as well. Although there was hardly an outcry at the time, UK Sport’s decision to cut British Basketball’s funding entirely in 2017 is gradually developing into a national scandal.
In February this year there was a recent spike in outrage when it emerged UK Sport had concentrated over £30 million of funding on Winter Olympic sports such as skeleton, a sport which had been identified as winnable – given the correct resources.
In that respect, they were successful. Team GB won three skeleton medals as they enjoyed their most successful Winter Olympics ever. Five medals had been won overall, smiles returned to faces and national pride was high – but at what cost?
Almost £6 million had been ploughed into skeleton alone for the benefit of maybe a dozen athletes and a handful of support staff. Meanwhile, the cuts to basketball had the potential to affect hundreds of thousands.
Recent statistics show that basketball is in fact one of the most-played sports in the UK, especially in inner-city and urban areas. An entire generation of future basketballers is at risk of being lost.
The funding cuts struck hardest in London, where the majority of British Basketball’s programmes lie, but Scotland will have felt its effects as well.
In fact, while UK Sport continues to deprive British Basketball of any money at all, even the future of the Scotland and English Commonwealth teams are in doubt.
And it is in that context in which Scotland take to the court on Saturday morning.
Not only are they facing Australia, the hosts and strongest team in the competition, but they’re up against history, heritage and the future of their domestic game as well.