Calls for progress to deliver community basketball stadium on Sheffield's Olympic Legacy Park

An artist impression of what the arena would look like.
An artist impression of what the arena would look like.
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Quicker progress and more funding is needed to ensure that a community basketball arena is built in Sheffield - that's the message from leaders in the sport.

Sheffield Sharks are hoping to move into the new facility on the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe but head coach Atiba Lyons said talks were only progressing at a 'snail's pace' and called for a deal to be struck as soon as possible.

Director Sarah Backovic.

Director Sarah Backovic.

The club has secured 70 per cent of the £4 million needed to build the 2,500-seat indoor spots arena on the old Don Valley Staidum site but said they were waiting for the council to get back to them on a deal which could see the authority help with the remaining 30 per cent.

Sharks are not only desperate to have a place to call their own for the first time since its formation in 1994, but Mr Lyons and Sarah Backovic, managing director, both said the facility would be opened up to the community.

The venue, known as the Park Community Arena, would also be used by students at the Oasis Academy Don Valley, where secondary school pupils are due to join primary age children currently studying at the site, in September, in order to fill Sheffield Council's legal obligation to provide sports facilities.

Mr Lyons said: "The plans are moving forward but they're moving at a snail's pace. The school is desperate to use the site and we are ready to go. We are just waiting to get it over the line."

Players at the site before work began, with head coach Atiba Lyons pictured centre.

Players at the site before work began, with head coach Atiba Lyons pictured centre.

Ms Backovic said the reason for the delays was the club was still waiting for an answer to a proposal from the Sharks which would allow the development to be built.

She said: "We went to various investors and funders and can fund 70 per cent of the project build - that money is from Unity Trust Bank. We tried to fill the other 30 per cent but because of the nature of the build - a community facility rather than commercial - investors get less return.

"We went to the council and said you need the facility for the school and to provide provision for the kids so we asked if they'd help. We're still waiting for an answer back on that."

Sharks have been fighting for the stadium since the OLP were first announced on the site of the former Don Valley Stadium. They have played across the city including at Sheffield Arena and their current 'base' at the English Institute of Sport.

Ms Backovic said the club had to cut back the number of junior teams in its set-up this season due to a lack of facilities and said the new £4 million facility would allow it to expand its community work.

"The stadium is the brainchild of the Sharks and we need our own facility. We can't grow our junior programme without our own facility because the others we use either aren't available or aren't affordable to the kids," she said.

"We have to charge the kids £300 to £400 to join the junior club. If we had our own facility we could provide kids with a place to play the sport at a reasonable cost. We just want a facility so we can provide a something special for the community in the heart of Attercliffe."

Ms Backovic said Sharks had to restrict the number of junior teams to six and currently have to run community basketball sessions for children in venues across the city.

She added: "The business plan is designed to help the community and the philosophy is to open up the facility to the community.

"We probably just could just build our own stadium for ourselves but it would be empty during the week when we're not playing or training and what good would that be?"

The Sharks MD also highlighted the lack of funding basketball receives from the Government, which was debated in Parliament last week.

"The sport is just not supported or funded properly and we want to know why it isn't," she said.

"The argument has been debated the House of Commons last week and started because Great Britain basketball had its funding completely cut and they are in a position where there will be unable to compete.

"The grassroots part of the game gets £1 million but that is absolute peanuts compared to other sports and the British Basketball League, which we compete in, is completely self-funded.

"We have invested our own time, money and effort in a sport that has more than 300,000 people play it twice a month and we get nothing back.

"It's the third most participated sport in the country but it doesn't get any funding."

Sheffield Council's Cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, Coun Mary Lea said: "No deal has been signed with the Sharks because they have not been able to confirm final funding for the project. We know they are working on this and we will be happy to meet them again in the near future

“The school is already open and they currently use the English Institute to meet their indoor sport’s needs. This provides a satisfactory solution for the period ahead and the council is in close contact with the school.”