Vince Macaulay wants a warm welcome for all at the Copper Box Arena

Vince Macaulay wants a warm welcome for all at the Copper Box Arena

London Lions head coach Vince Macaulay hopes when the British Basketball League club eventually hosts fans back at the Copper Box Arena, everyone will enjoy a welcoming environment – no matter what their ethnic background.

The Lions won the BBL Trophy for the first time in their history in March as competition went on behind closed doors, and were then edged out 68-66 by Newcastle Eagles in the season-ending BBL play-off final.

As the easing of coronavirus restrictions continues under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, it is hoped supporters will be able to return to all indoor arenas by the time the new campaign tips off again later in the year.

Research commissioned by the Lions revealed that 41 per cent of fans from ethnic minority communities are hesitant to attend live sporting events due to the risk of racial and verbal abuse.

Part of the study, which was across a nationally representative cohort of 2,084 respondents, also showed 29 per cent of younger supporters, aged 18 to 24, shared the same concerns.

They are statistics which Macaulay hopes the club will be able to help overcome with a continued positive inclusion programme.

“We are looking forward to playing in front of fans again, and what we are saying to our people is we need you to come out and support us,” Macaulay told the PA news agency.

“We need you to share in our positioning that we will not be accepting those kind of behaviours any longer, and I know there are a lot of fans out there who want to share that stance with us.

“To those that are hesitant, we need to let them understand that is what we are about and that they can share in being part of us, sharing this event in their community.”

Macaulay continued: “We are fortunate that we play in a diverse sport which does not encourage such behaviour.

“But we have had situations like in the NBA these past few weeks where players have had popcorn or bottles thrown at them.

“You can describe that as racism or fan misbehaviour, but it all comes down to how we appreciate what is in our community.”

Macaulay hopes more will follow the Lions in aiming to build on delivering meaningful social improvement projects around them.

He said: “I ask myself the question ‘who is investing into outdoor basketball courts in the middle of Hackney?’

“Who will invest into free access to young people to play basketball in the evenings to keep them off the streets?

“Who is prepared to put their head up above the parapet and put their money where their mouth is?

“We are looking at basketball courts which we can refurbish in and around the neighbourhood, so kids have something gamefully to do.

“We are working with our community partners to make the facilities better, we are out there trying to do that.

“But we need people to come and join us, to use that opportunity to put their corporate social responsibility stuff on the ground to see if it works.”

As part of the Government’s £300million Sport Winter Survival Package, British Basketball League clubs – including both the men’s and women’s – were set to receive £2.5 million in grants and loans.

A general view of the Copper Box Arena, London.
The London Lions remain hopefully the Copper Box Arena will be able to welcome back fans next season (Sean Dempsey/PA)

Macaulay feels the proposed return of paying fans through arena doors across the county is now “critical” to future sustainability.

“At the moment, we believe come July 19 we will be able to have 95 per cent attendance, and by the time hopefully we get into September, that number will go up,” Macaulay said.

“Across the board we are all going to need that – whether we are in London, up in Newcastle or Manchester, it is critical now.”