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777 withdraw London Lions from Europe

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Miami-based investment firm 777 Partners has told London Lions’ women’s basketball team that it will not be competing in Europe next season, despite the team becoming the first British outfit to reach the last four of the EuroCup Women competition this campaign.

The decision, which has not yet been publicly announced, will raise fresh questions about 777’s ability to fund its proposed takeover of Everton.

777 bought the Lions in 2020 and one year later bought a 45 per cent stake in the British Basketball League, too. Under its ownership, the team has dominated men’s and women’s basketball in the UK, with the women’s team being almost untouchable in domestic competition.

Similar success against the best teams in Europe, however, had been elusive until this season, with the Lions winning all 12 games they have played so far in the EuroCup to set up a semi-final against Reyer Venezia. The first leg is in Italy on Wednesday evening, with the return fixture in London next Tuesday.

But even if the Lions make the final of European basketball’s second tier competition and win that match too, becoming the first British team to claim a European title, they already know they will not be able to defend it.

In a memo sent to players and staff, which The Athletic has seen, the Lions’ management said it had “undertaken a strategic review of the women’s team…with a directed focus on priorities within the programme against the economic context of European competition”.

The memo then explained that team bosses want to “prioritise the club’s domestic efforts in the short term, temporarily withdrawing the women’s team from European competition for the 2024/25 season”.

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It added that the plan was to return to international competition in the future but to do so as a “self-sustained” programme, which means “nurturing a domestic talent pool” by “providing more opportunities” for homegrown talent.

This would suggest there will be a move away from the recent policy of signing overseas stars, such as Megan Gustafson, the winner of the award for the best female player in US college hoops in 2019, and WNBA 2023 first-round draft pick Abby Meyers.

But while the news will be hugely disappointing for the Lions’ players, staff and supporters, it may not come as a complete shock, given the substantial amount of negative stories about 777’s financial position.

Despite agreeing a deal with current owner Farhad Moshiri to buy Everton in September, it has not yet been approved by the Premier League. A process that was meant to take a maximum of 12 weeks is now into its 25th week, as the league has continued to seek answers to its questions about the source and sufficiency of 777’s funding for the proposed takeover.

777 has repeatedly said it can afford to buy and fund Everton, and this week met Premier League officials in an attempt to break the deadlock. It has also lent Everton £190million over the last six months, without which the club would have been unable to meet its financial obligations or continue the construction of its new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.

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Last week, however, The Athletic reported one of 777’s biggest backers, the US insurance group A-Cap, was withdrawing $1billion worth of business from a 777 subsidiary after a series of ratings downgrades had threatened its own business prospects.

This followed earlier stories about the late payment of wages at 777-owned Belgian team Standard Liege and several lawsuits involving the investment firm in Canada, the UK and US. There have also been numerous stories in other media outlets about unpaid bills, huge debts and problems with various regulatory bodies. In fact, there have also been several stories about late payments to the British Basketball League.

When asked for comment about these issues, 777 has dismissed their significance and said any short-term problems within its portfolio of companies are either a result of issues it has inherited and is now fixing, or they are standard commercial disputes that any large company occasionally encounters.

(Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

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