On Friday 21st of April 2023, Basketball Northern Ireland welcomed the Lithuanian Basketball Federation Secretary General Mindaugas Balciunas and Head of Youth Development Coach Tomas Kersis to Belfast, Northern Ireland.
BNI Chair, Kevin Craig and Vice Chair, Marc Mulholland, joined BNI’s Club Engagement Officer, Lauren McCullough, to welcome the LBF delegation to Belfast to celebrate their 101st birthday as a federation and use this opportunity to build a partnership that aims to help build the sport of basketball with one of the most prestigious in the sport of basketball.
The Lithuanian population sits just under 3 million people with Northern Ireland (circa1.9m) and Ireland (circa 5.12m) combining 7 million people. With FIBA Rankings having Lithuania sitting at 8th overall in 5×5 and 3rd in the world at FIBA 3×3 (combined male and female ranking) with Ireland sitting at 96th for 5×5 and 84th (combined male and female ranking). *Ranking dated February 2023 There are clearly areas here in development that BNI can work with LBF to develop are learnings within the game.
Rolandas Bartkus, of Basketball NI’s Club, BC Wolves and the nominated LBK representation in Northern Ireland organised the visit from Lithuanian Basketball Federation,
“Having the Lithuanian Basketball Federation meet with the BNI board is something that us, Lithuanians, have dreamed of this visit for a long time. It was a special moment to see the basketball community travel from across the island, from as far as Cork, Dublin, Cavan, Monaghan, Derry and the locals of Belfast to come witness all of us learning, working and sharing our experiences, good and bad, together as a basketball family. This is just the start of a long, promising, journey that we all will be a part of together, as we continue to try and grow this great sport of basketball both here in Northern Ireland and Lithuania.”
During the Lithuanian Basketball Federation visit, Secretary General, Mindaugas Balciunas explained the youth development structure in their strategy and discussed the various coach educational opportunities that have the potential to help grow the sport of basketball here in Northern Ireland if executed correctly.
First, I want to say Thank you to the Northern Ireland Lithuanian basketball community for this visit, especially to its main representative Rolandas Bartkus. Said Mindaugas Balciunas
The Journey itself gave a lot of consideration about the overall mission that Lithuanians are taking a part in Northern Ireland basketball development is very significant and respected. During today’s meeting with Basketball Northern Ireland, we noticed that the Lithuanian community might be that platform that will help to develop basketball, the local community effort is unmatched, because it’s based on enthusiasm, huge belief in the cause and dedication. So, for us, as a Lithuanian Basketball Federation, it has become an obligation to help to develop this whole idea. Also seeing how basketball unites the whole of the Lithuanian community and how many options it brings I can say this land is very significant to commemorate Lithuanians Basketball Birthday, and that is why we are here. Hundred and one year of Lithuanian basketball growing and thriving so this is a very clear and specific step of Lithuanian Basketball expenditure. One of the goals of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation is globalisation, so the focus for the upcoming years will be the growth of basketball through our communities all over the world and Northern Ireland is a great example of it. First off all because of the people that takes responsibility to grow and develop the sport and all the prospect there is, because Basketball NI are making first steps in the actual growth and the Lithuanians, I would say is the hope, because here people that works and develops basketball have high competence and will, and also the geographic location is quite comfortable for collaboration between Lithuania and Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, there are some challenges that we will have to overcome but seeing all the efforts from Basketball Northern Ireland, Lithuanians Community, Lithuanian Basketball Federation – all of them can be sorted by working together, so I really want to say how happy I’m seeing all the initiatives that are happening, I would say this also will bring new prospects for the clubs in Lithuania to bring maybe not the main teams but the teams that are not having enough recognition, attention and possibilities for International games. So, this will be a very useful experience to come, see (development) and play with the local teams to help to grow to both sides: Lithuania and Northern Ireland. So, there is a lot of emotions, a few specific steps, that would include few visits from Lithuania youth basketball teams to Northern Ireland, also Coaching Development clinics, because the basketball overall as agreed from both sides starts from the coach and the Lithuanians with the competences they have even without the qualifications, coming here with informal competence, coaching experience, playing experience are the hope for the local basketball. Because through Lithuanian enthusiasts in Ireland and especially Northern Ireland the basketball could develop fast. So, in the near future the cooperation will get stronger. Once again I wish to say Thank you and this is just a first step from a long journey that basketball would grow here and in Lithuania.
Basketball NI Vice Chair, Marc Mulholland, expressed thanks to the Lithuanian Basketball Federation taking the time to visit Belfast,
This is an exciting opportunity for us here at BNI to welcome the LBF to our shores. There was fantastic willingness and want to understand the culture and the history of basketball here in Northern Ireland, from Mindaugas and Tomas during their visit. We were equally excited to see the openness to share educational resources with the coaches here, who came from across the island to learn from one of the best basketball nations in the world. Getting a chance to ask questions on how the Lithuanian Basketball Federation operates as a business is equally as important as understanding its sporting development structure. Basketball in Northern Ireland continues to be a non-funded sport here. When you understand the potential of the 3rd most popular sport in the world and how small nations are able to have a development and high performance structure within the sport it shows what the possibilities can be, with the right resources and infrastructures in place. When speaking with Mindaugas, it was fantastic to hear him compliment our community as he witnessed the willingness to grow and eagerness of a passionate basketball community here in NI that wants nothing more than to grow the sport. We thank our Lithuanian friends for a great visit and look forward to building on our partnership in an aid to grow the sport we love, together. BNI, Vice Chair, Marc Mulholland.
Thank you to everyone who attended the workshop and Basketball NI would like to thank Lauren McCullough, Rolandas Bartkus and Greta Zavadskiene for organising the visit from the LBF.
Thank you also Basketball Ireland, Patrick O’Neill for preparing the Clinic’s venue and Žygis Radz for all his photography.