AN MP is fighting for better basketball opportunities on Wearside.
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, has joined forces with Paul Blake, managing director of Newcastle Eagles Basketball, to tackle the under-funding of the sport.
Ms Hodgson is chairwoman of the national All-Party Parliamentary Group for Basketball (APPG), founded three years ago. Such groups come together to act on a particular concern, in this case the lack of funding and access to basketball in the UK.
Paul, 40, said: “Sharon has been an absolutely enormous help to us in trying to put the case for the support.
“We feel like we are a two- or three-sport country at the minute.”
Paul said that although basketball has as high a participation rate as sports such as cricket and rugby union, the funding it receives is not proportionate.
Paul said: “Sharon had come to one of our primary school programmes and had showed a real interest. The level of interest from the kids got her involved.”
Ms Hodgson has been a lifelong basketball fan and decided to form the APPG after realising there was no representation of the sport in Parliament.
She said: “I grew up playing basketball at school and even though it doesn’t make the headlines or generate the revenues that football does, it’s still a popular and very accessible sport for young people.
“When I found out it didn’t have the same representation in Parliament, I decided to bring together other interested MPs and Peers with the people who run the sport to raise its profile, and to help ensure that the sport plays its role in getting kids active.”
Now Sharon and Paul work together on bringing all the key figures from the sport together to talk to Parliamentarians about the issues facing basketball – both at an elite level and at a grass-roots level, such as access to community sports facilities and government funding for community programmes.
Hoops for Health is the British Basketball League’s national community programme which combines basketball coaching and healthy living advice for young people.
Ms Hodgson said: “The Hoops for Health programme is a great way for young people who enjoy the sport to compete with others in their area, giving them a way of keeping fit, learning about healthy choices and making friends at the same time.
“I really hope that the involvement of Team GB in the Olympics this year will spur on even more young people to get involved in the sport – both playing and going to see their local teams.”
Paul added: “I think what the group is trying to achieve is grass-root growth in clubs, particularly in schools and a better infrastructure for the sport.
“It’s an easy sport to engage in. There are lots of different formats, you don’t need any big chunks of equipment to play it, it’s accessible for girls and boys and it’s not a sport that is tied by any social class.”
Saints march on
St Cuthbert’s R C Primary won the regional final of Hoops for Health at Northumbria Sport Central.
The Sunderland school beat East Gosforth, from Newcastle, in the final game after battling through the heats.
It was a tough final and was 0-0 after regular time, so it went to penalty shoot-outs, where St Cuthbert’s won 3-2.
Sharon presented the trophy to the winners.
Sharon said: “The St Cuthbert’s team had a great tournament, but the final game, during the half-time break of the Eagles game, was a real nail-biter, so I couldn’t be more thrilled when they won.
“The team obviously had a great evening and it’s clear that they really enjoy playing basketball.
“They’ll now go forward to the national finals, where they will play in front of the crowd for the British Basketball League Playoff Final in Birmingham, and I’m sure we’ll all be rooting for them.”
The National Finals will take place on May 12.