Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Basketball Wales - Selfish, or just sensible?

"Some people say they know they can't believe
Wales we still got a basketball team."
(Pic : MVP 24/7.com)

Considering our climate, Wales should be a powerhouse at indoor sports.

However, when it comes to Welsh sport, basketball won't jump out at you as one of our major ones. We do have a committed organisation that runs the sport in Wales, just as the FAW runs football, or the WRU runs rugby union. Basketball Wales was founded in 2008 as a replacement for the Basketball Association of Wales, which was itself founded in 1952.

In a related note, it was recently reported in the Glamorgan Gazette that former teacher Brian Sparks, from Bridgend, was awarded an MBE for his services to schools basketball. In recent years however, it was the exploits of the successful women's Rhondda Rebels side that thrust basketball into some semblance of limelight in Wales.

Wales has its own competitions, and even its own national team that occasionally competes by itself, but also recently as part of a Great Britain side in preparation for the Olympics - and higher-ranking tournaments like EuroBasket and the World Cup. Team GB had to be given special dispensation to participate in London, after proving they were competitive, as there's no permanent Team GB, just like the football.

Basketball Wales was recently criticised for not signing up to a merger with the English and Scottish basketball associations to form a permanent "British" organisation. This would enable GB to compete at future Olympic Games and international tournaments. Team GB's men's captain for the forthcoming Olympics, Drew Sullivan, is quoted on the BBC as saying it was "selfish and absurd that they made this decision."

Sound familiar?

Wales doesn't have any players in Team GB, and was never likely to produce more than maybe one or two at that level. They're up against players who qualify for British nationality, but who play in the NBA or the bigger European leagues – Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng for example, arguably the most famous British basketball player ever.

The only way Welsh players can even compete internationally is in low-ranking European competitions against the likes of Gibraltar, Malta and San Marino. If Basketball Wales had merged with the other associations though, they would've simply faded out of existence, and their ability to compete in these competitions might've come under question. Basketball Wales are quoted as saying that:
"....membership of the British Basketball Federation (BBF) has not enhanced the game in Wales, including the numbers participating or the level and standard of participation."
In fact, according to ESPN-associated site MPV24/7, funding for Basketball Wales was reduced to effectively zero by Sports Wales in 2011. Zero. Olympic legacy anyone?

Although you can certainly argue that Basketball Wales' decision was perhaps a little parochial, Wales stood, by and large, to gain absolutely nothing from any merger.

So the turkeys didn't vote for Christmas. What's the issue here?

FIBA (the basketball equivalent of FIFA) are noticeably disappointed by Basketball Wales' non-compliance. Judging by their response, it looks as though FIBA might accept that an Anglo-Scottish association will be enough to compete as a "Team GB" side. That'll probably mean Wales will become "persona non-grata", despite being a full member of FIBA in the same way Wales is in FIFA and the IRB.

I'll probably go into this in more detail in the future, but what we need now is a way to promote sports like basketball, netball, handball, wheelchair rugby, futsal – and why not even baseball (the Anglo-Welsh version, which is still played in the Cardiff area AFAIK) - in our schools, colleges and communities. I'd personally like to see more formal competitions, and I would like to see some sort of US-style "college sports" culture develop in Wales. I mentioned that before with regard rugby.

At least with our own independent basketball association we'll have the opportunity to able to do something like that.

Basketball Wales shouldn't have made a decision - that could affect the sport in a whole nation - just to suit the ambitions of one or two elite athletes. England could probably reach the higher echelons of international basketball by themselves with the right support and development, but no athletes should stand on the backs of grass-roots Scottish and Welsh basketball players to make that process easier.

We might not be the best, but there's a proud history there. It's not much, admittedly, but its still ours.


  1. I think we should devote a lot more money, time and effort to sport to tackle obesity and raise our profile across the world.

    We have our own version of baseball so why isn't taught in schools across Wales? The game is at its strongest in Cardiff/Newport (its also played in Merseyside) and is more suited to liberal Welsh tastes than a stuffy old imperial game like cricket.

    Good explanation of the sport


    A cracking post-match interview


    The 1987 Welsh Cup final


    ... I think baseball must be the Kairdiffian thing in the universe!

  2. Great clips from those far off days when BBC Wales covered Welsh baseball.

    Nowadays they use almost their entire sports budget to subsidise professional rugby, no other sport gets a look in.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I'd like to think there were room for all sports, but I certainly remember playing Welsh baseball in school during the summer in Bridgend not so long ago (probably influenced by teachers from Cardiff), and with the same type of bat too. It's just a shame it's "stuck" in the south east and didn't "go national" and perhaps become Wales' equivalent of hurling or Gaelic football.

    Those clips are before my time, but it's sad we don't see things like that anymore. I'd like to think if/when local TV is launched, they'll start to cover things like this again - in a similar way "minor league" teams might in the US on local stations.

  4. "It's just a shame it's "stuck" in the south east and didn't "go national" and perhaps become Wales' equivalent of hurling or Gaelic football."

    We could always revive Cnapan or Bando ;)

  5. I've read that they did try to get the game going in the valleys but it failed due to the lack of space and applications by baseball clubs to use public park land were usually turned down.

    There was a lot of sectarian tension in early 20th century Cardiff so perhaps we should be grateful that we didn't end up with a Celtic vs Rangers situation!

    Here's a good piece by Martin Johnes if you're interested:



  6. I also played baseball in school, in Barry in the 90's. They called it British Baseball. Would be a nice alternative to cricket.

  7. Welsh or British Baseball still exists in there is a two-tier league in Cardiff (and maybe Newport too), youth leagues and a women's league. It is extremely grassroots and a true working class sport. Grangetown in particular had two 'famous' clubs Grange Albion and Grange Catholics. An annual international fixture also takes place. Wales is generally a much stronger hotbed of this baseball than England (Merseyside) which is why it is called Welsh Baseball as often as its called British Baseball. Paul flynn has been a vocal promoter of Welsh baseball.

    North American Baseball is played everywhere in the British Isles. It's nice that the Anglo-Welsh version persists though.

    If it was given proper support it could 'go national' in a way cricket never could because of the Glamorgan issue. But we could only ever play against England!

  8. And of course many Cardiffians who were famous for other sports played baseball including, John Toshack, Phil Dwyer, Terry Yorath, Nathan Blake, Terry Holmes, Mark Ring, Dai Bishop and Mike Rayer.

  9. Frank Hennessey's baseball song.


  10. Thanks for the brilliant extra contributions.

    The Martin Johnes paper was a fascinating read. I knew that baseball was attached to football clubs (Derby County's old "Baseball Ground") when the Americans tried to establish the sport, but I never knew it was as big as it was. I also didn't know about attempts to "Americanise" the British game. Maybe if that had happened, the Americans might be able to locate Wales on a map now ;)

    It does mention the "relative weakness of cricket" in the working-class parts of Cardiff as to why baseball took off. I can certainly see why it was an alternative to cricket.

    If the game were to spread (again) there would probably need to be rule changes to allow the sport to be played of rugby/football pitches (or indeed cricket grounds) for places in the valleys etc.

    Anon : 15:32 - The Irish play against Australia in an "international rules" Gaelic football - Aussie Rules football game. Maybe some sort of "international rules" could develop and Wales (or a England & Wales team - maybe we can just call them "Wales" if we want to follow cricket's example) can play an American or Cuban side.

    It's all probably worth a blog of its own when I get around to it.

  11. Not sure about your point there Owen. There is already a GB side for North American Baseball that can play America or Cuba, unfortunately perhaps.

    An interesting point now is what resources and infrastructure is needed to establish senior Welsh basketball teams and a domestic league system? Basketball has a decent tradition in the Valleys.

  12. Anon 14:46 - I was thinking of a Welsh/British baseball game/series against Americans, but perhaps with modified rules so it's a "half way house". Like International Rules is for Gaelic football & Aussie Rules.

    As for basketball, it'll probably have to start in schools, and there are already quite a few school basketball leagues going, hence me mentioning Brian Sparks' MBE. There would probably need to be permanent "venues" for senior mens and womens teams, with the ability to host crowds, and perhaps a way for basketball players to move into part-time/full-time coaching or refereeing when they're too old to play.

    It could probably start as regional leagues/conferences with a national play-off. I'm sure something similar to that already happens. Hopefully with local TV, or online streaming, some of these local games might get exposure, rivalries would build and then more kids might be willing to take up the sport in schools. I've seen Irish basketball get coverage on RTE for example, with crowds of several hundred. No reason why it couldn't happen here, within reason.

  13. Thanks for this, Owen. Scotland and England were meant to make a decision by 30 June. That date has passed, and I've been searching to find mention of the outcome, but haven't. I did find this press release last week from basketballscotland, though. It looks like Scotland were poised to say Yes to a merger.

    Meanwhile, both Wales and Scotland are playing in FIBA Europe's Division C (or small countries) championship in San Marino this week, see here. Wales aren't doing too well, having lost their two Group B games so far. Scotland have won one and lost one. Here's a picture.

    But look at the BBC Sport basketball page, and there's not one mention of the tournament, even though Team GB is plastered everywhere.

  14. Thanks for the comment, MH.

    It looks as if Basketball Scotland are looking for clarity, presumably some sort of guarantee on funding etc, before making a decision either way. As I wrote, judging by FIBA's comments, they (FIBA) might accept an Anglo-Scottish team competeing under the banner of Team GB regardless of Basketball Wales' wishes.

    I think we'll both accept that Wales have never really set the basketball world alight, so poor results don't surprise me, especially if the sport if neglected at the grass-roots level.

    I'm also willing to bet we'll hear very little about basketball once the Olympics are over, short of NBA games being played somewhere in the UK.