28 Nov 2020

Is Basketball NZ doing enough for Māori and Pasifika?

12:59 pm on 28 November 2020

Basketball New Zealand is under fire over claims that its representative system leaves underprivileged communities out in the cold.

Former Tall Black Lindsay Tait

Former Tall Black Lindsay Tait Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Former Tall Black, Lindsay Tait, has slammed the system, calling it broken, not real and too expensive.

The 38-year-old runs the basketball programme at Auckland Grammar School and is also involved with the New Zealand Junior Tall Blacks.

He said he believed the best players weren't being represented in the regions because, for a lot of families, it was unaffordable.

"The best kids for a very long time haven't represented the country and I don't say that with malice, I don't say that to put anybody down, it's a part of the system," he said.

"Representative basketball in Auckland City at least, it's broken, it's not real, it's expensive, very expensive, and I don't know how we continue to call it true representation when it's not even the closest kids that are getting the opportunity to represent."

The sport's national body said there were many talented young players unable to get the opportunities in basketball that they deserve, with Māori and Pasifika in particular falling through the cracks.

Basketball New Zealand Chief Executive, Iain Potter, said they were aware that costs were a strain for a number of families.

Basketball New Zealand chief executive Iain Potter.

Basketball NZ CEO Iain Potter Photo: Photosport

"Basketball [representative] tournaments are generally three, four day events where you've got to pay for your travel, you've got to pay for your accommodation, you've got to pay for your food, so all of a sudden there's a five hundred dollar bill which is quite reasonable for what you're getting but it's a hell of a lot of money all of a sudden, so it's expensive on that end and that's one of the issues for basketball," he said.

"It's a socio-economic issue, and unfortunately that socio-economic issue does impact in particular, as we know, Māori and Pacific families, and in communities like South Auckland and other places around New Zealand, but we know there's a concentration on those issues in those areas."

Potter said there were some very talented kids, that because of their financial circumstances, weren't able to push on or get the same opportunity.

"In one sense it's not fair and in another sense it's very difficult to do something about it in every way."

Looking back at his early career, Tait said he was lucky enough to have the support of two working parents, but he said he often thought about those who fell through the cracks because they didn't have the same support.

"We've made it a sport in New Zealand for the elite, for the people that have money and two supportive parents, that will drive them all around the city to all their little trainings, but that does not mean that they are the best kids that deserve the opportunity."

"A gang-load of kids, especially brown kids, are falling through the cracks and to hear about the growth but to see the way that our game is being treated, to me it's unacceptable."

Pafe Momoiseā represented New Zealand in the recent NZNBL 3x3 tournament.

Pafe Momoiseā represented New Zealand in the recent NZNBL 3x3 tournament. Photo: Supplied

Tait said it wasn't good enough, and he had since helped establish a grassroots collective with an aim to provide accessible and affordable basketball to communities across Auckland.

Pafe Momoiseā is someone who has emerged from the community.

He is on a basketball scholarship at Lincoln University in Christchurch, but it hasn't been any easy journey.

The former Manurewa High School student had initially landed a basketball scholarship at a US university in South Carolina with help from Samoa Basketball coach, Sefo Aiono.

The 21-year-old said if it wasn't for the support of his family, he could have been in a very different position.

Pafe Momoiseā with mum Talia

Pafe Momoiseā with mum Talia Photo: Supplied

"[I have] heaps of mates, people in school or around the area in general who just couldn't play reps because of fees, or because of transport, or they just didn't have the gear or were even just too scared to come to the trials because they knew that their parents couldn't afford to keep them in the team if they made it," he explained.

After a semester in the US, the coach's contract was terminated. Momoiseā lost his scholarship and was forced to return home to New Zealand.

But with no NBL contract, and no club system to compete in, the hopeful professional was left to re-evaluate his future.

"When I came back from College I wasn't really known, and so I couldn't really play NZNBL at the time so there wasn't really much for me. Apart from Under 23s reps, which there's only one competition, there's no club basketball and nothing to come back to."

He said it could have been the end of his professional playing basketball dream, but social leagues and private providers kept his aspirations alive, and with some help from community groups, Momoiseā was able to train with other elite players which eventually saw him land a scholarship at Lincoln, and more recently play for New Zealand in the new NBL 3x3 competition.

Potter agreed the gap after high school was a weakness in the basketball system, and with Auckland Basketball Services Limited, (ABSL), Basketball New Zealand was working to push a more community-club structure to support more playing opportunities in the regions.

"In the New Zealand Secondary Schools Nationals, you'll see that there's a wonderful system through there, through to 18s, and then we have an NBL league for men and an NBL league for women, and there's a real gap between that space."

"I 100 percent believe and agree that we need a community club system that provides more opportunities for kids, and quite clearly I think the solution is a more community club-based system."

Potter said social leagues and private providers were vital to running basketball in the community which helped to identify talent and fill the age-group gaps.

"A lot of them are trying to provide basketball at a really cost-effective way for their communities and it's a great way to get those kids involved and then they can always kick-on from there."

Pafe Momoiseā credits social leagues and community groups for keeping him motivated.

Pafe Momoiseā credits social leagues and community groups for keeping him motivated. Photo: Supplied

Unlike most sports, there is no club system for people who want to play basketball in Auckland.

However, the ABSL is introducing new initiatives to help boost the sport in the regions, and to financially support players who want to be involved in the Basketball New Zealand representative programmes but couldn't afford it.

While associations across New Zealand already subsidise some expenses for kids, Potter said there was still a cost.

Transitional General Manager, Ivan Harre, said the ABSL was working on re-designing their representative programme, while a new high-performance scholarship fund would also be introduced in 2021.

"This scholarship fund will enable players who aren't able to afford to participate, to actually fund players their participation in those national programmes," he said.

He said this would take into account the socio-economic position of families and the commitment that was being made by the player.

"So that high performance fund will be a massive benefit, especially in supporting those Māori and Pacific Island athletes who participate in those Basketball New Zealand national programmes."

Harre said they were focused on reducing the cost for everybody while enabling strong player development.

"The big barriers that we are aware of with our Māori and Pacific players, first and foremost, is affordability but also being able to get to trainings, get to games, and there's a real balance and pressure on a lot of these players with home commitments, school commitments and spiritual commitments."

"We're focusing on being able to ensure, as much as we can, that people can actually walk to the games... rather than having to make everyone go to a large centre, so they can actually play at local schools and venues and reducing those barriers of access and transport."

While Harre supported private providers and the tournaments developed outside of the formal structures, he believed there were some competing directly with the community game.

"We've got other people operating as pay for play operators who are competing directly with the community game, and I don't think it's helpful to the long-term sustainability of community basketball."

Harre said ABSL and other associations were working with local communities through monthly talanoa, and it was important for them to create a stronger, united basketball community.