LONDON (Reuters) - Europe’s top basketball competition hopes to expand to include a British team within as little as three years, officials said after the first night of Euroleague’s final four in London on Friday.
The 02 arena, scene of last year’s Olympic basketball finals and packed to the rafters for Friday’s semis, hosts the climax to the European basketball season when Olympiakos face Real Madrid on Sunday.
But as on Friday, the dominant language in the tribune and the bars and cafes that surround it in London’s redeveloped docklands will be Spanish and Greek, not English.
Basketball’s profile in the UK has risen, helped by investment ahead of the Olympics last year, but it has never taken off as a major professional sport, overshadowed by the British love of football, rugby, cricket or golf.
“Its one of the main reasons we’re here this weekend,” Euroleague brand and communications manager Alex Ferrer told reporters.
“The sooner we have a team here the better. Participation rates in the UK are not bad. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen. It’s a long process but three years is doable.”
Team GB gave a creditable account of themselves at the Olympic tournament in August, beating China and pushing eventual silver medallists Spain to the wire in the group stages.
But the UK game suffered a hammer blow in December when UK Sport decided to stop funding the game’s development after it spent 8.6 million pounds ($13.2 million) on the sport in the lead-up to the Olympics.
The NBA regularly sends teams across for a regular season game in London to promote the sport, but the British league itself remains relatively small.
“The NBA coming here helps. Us coming here helps. Its really important for the long term that we expand into England,” Ferrer said. “It’s a country we really want to make work.”
“The Olympics and the money that the government put into UK basketball has definitely helped. The team didn’t quite perform at the level they wanted but they were up there.”
Editing by Ed Osmond