Host Brits will get to vie for hoops gold
LYON, France -- The international basketball federation cleared Britain's men's and women's teams to compete in the 2012 London Olympics without qualifying.
The world governing body FIBA gave the teams a special exemption at a central board meeting Sunday after receiving guarantees that the host will improve its long-term basketball program after the games.
"We are delighted that FIBA has rightfully given both the men's and women's British basketball teams the opportunity to compete for Team GB in front of an enthusiastic home crowd at the London 2012 Olympic Games," said Andy Hunt, the British team's chief executive officer.
With a little bit of home magic, all our best players and the right preparation, why not?” -- Chris Finch, Britain's men's coach on team's medal chances
Hunt added that FIBA's decision was a recognition of the progress made by British basketball in the last five years and expressed his hopes that both teams will secure good performances at the games.
"I'm relieved and excited, mostly for our players, for the commitment and sacrifice they have shown the last few years to help us build the programme to where we are," Great Britain men's basketball coach Chris Finch said.
Britain has lagged far behind other European countries in basketball but its men's and women's teams have both qualified for their European championships this year.
"I don't think a medal is out of the question," Finch said. "With a little bit of home magic, all our best players and the right preparation, why not?
"It is not as if we have ever failed when we have had our best team and our best players available."
The British men's team could feature Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, Ben Gordon of the Detroit Pistons and former NBA player Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who now plays for Lyon-Villeurbane of the French league.
"Got the great news we will be playing [at] London2012," Luol Deng said on his Twitter account. "Can't wait to play in London."
At this year's Euros in Lithuania, Britain will be in a group including Spain, Turkey, Poland and the host country.
FIBA said its central board voted 16-4 in favor of Britain being included in the Olympic lineup. But it added that it "reiterated the need for the federation to work toward proving their commitment in growing the game by figuring out the best governance model going forward."
FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann told a news conference that Britain convinced the central board of its competitiveness and provided a solid legacy plan for the sport in a country where football, rugby and cricket are the most popular sports.
Britain should now decide by June 30, 2012 whether it will continue representing England, Scotland and Wales in the future at international level. The British basketball Federation has an exceptional status as an umbrella organization of all three valid until 2012.
"They have to take the decision by 30 June 2012, which gives them more than a year to discuss what is their best option, so everything is in their hands," Baumann said.
The latest NBA matches played in London earlier this month, which drew thousands of fans at the O2 Arena in London, also helped Britain's cause. But Baumann acknowledged it would have been impossible not to grant the hosts automatic spots.
"I think they worked hard, they have shown their commitment," Baumann said. "There was never a doubt that they would not be able to participate at the Games."
FIBA also decided to award the 2014 women's world championships to Turkey.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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