BASKETBALL IRELAND has taken the decision to deactivate its senior men’s and women’s international teams indefinitely due to a severe financial crisis. The decision was made after it became apparent the body has accumulated debts of €1.2 million.
But it has worked out a strategy for survival with the Sports Council.
The development is particularly galling to the Irish women’s team, which narrowly missed out on promotion to the A division in Europe last season and whose members had lobbied Basketball Ireland to allow them to fund their own way through this year’s competition.
“This is a financial rather than philosophical decision,” said Paul Meany, the executive chairman of Basketball Ireland, yesterday.
The Dublin-based school principal is well-known in Irish basketball circles and was asked to return to administrate the sport after it became clear Basketball Ireland had fallen into a terrible financial hole.
“We have had to cut back in every possible way or we face the scenario of Basketball Ireland collapsing,” he said. “This time last year we had 27 staff. Now we have 11. I am here in a voluntary capacity. FIBA have been very understanding about this and have given us a measure of support.
“We have always had a hand-to-mouth existence here, but a combination of bad financial information and maybe trying to develop the sport more quickly than was feasible has left us with no choice but to make these decisions.”
News of the withdrawals came abruptly to the women’s team. The seeding for the next European competitions was announced at Christmas, and Anne Diffney, the Irish team manager, was not alone in noticing that there was no mention of Ireland.
She was informed then by Basketball Ireland that there was a possibility the national teams might be withdrawn.
“There was a late entry date of January 16th, which we begged Basketball Ireland to go for,” she said. “If we ended up not entering, the fine would have been €2,500. But if you are €1.4 million in debt, what difference does that make? And we – the women’s team – would have been prepared to pay the fine anyway.
“We felt FIBA would have looked favourably on our case because we are a small nation, we did well in the last competition and there are only nine countries in our division: we would have balanced it up. But we were not given the option of raising the money so we are out in the cold.”
Diffney believes that women’s team was the best ever. Led by Susan Moran, the Tullamore woman who is now an assistant coach at St Joseph’s, the Pennsylvania college where she had a glittering playing career, the Irish team had been pushing hard for a place in the A grade in Europe.
They have a reserve of well-known senior Irish players, such as Michelle Fahy, Lindsey Pete, Michelle Aspel and Niamh Dwyer, all dominant figures in national league fixtures for years, as well as highly-gifted young players like Claire Rockall coming up through their ranks.
They missed out on qualification by a single point, finishing third on 16 points behind Holland. They beat the Dutch in the National Arena and lost narrowly away. They lost to Montenegro – who topped the group – by just three points in Dublin. They beat Slovenia and Switzerland home and away. The game that cost them qualification was a narrow away loss to Iceland.
The Dutch team, against whom they were chasing second spot, is funded to the tune of €1 million. The Irish team budget for the last qualifying campaign was €48,000.
“We ran it on a shoestring. But we did believe we could raise a similar sum,” Diffney said.
“Susan has contacts in the States and she felt she could have raised funding. We would have had contributions here at home. I know the ‘promise’ of money is easy, but we have got a lot of texts from people promising to fund-raise. None of the girls would have minded contributing themselves.
“When you travel, the host country accommodates you. But we always flew the cheapest airlines and the cheapest routes at odd hours. Home and away each Wednesday and Saturday for four weeks, and it takes its toll.
“The girls got no petrol money or training expenses, we paid for our own stuff as we went from here to there. If we could avoid staying in hotels at all, we would do.
“Basketball Ireland did the best they could in difficult circumstances. But the girls made huge sacrifices to play for Ireland, which is why this is so devastating for them.”
Meany is sympathetic to the Irish team’s perspective, but pointed out that the promise of money is very different to actual funding.
The underage teams will continue in European competition, but they have always been entirely self-funded.
He is hopeful Basketball Ireland will be in a position to restore the international teams in time for the next series of European competitions in 2012.
But for now, the Irish teams are in limbo and it remains to be seen whether players like Moran have played their last international game.