The road to FIBA World Cup representation for Australian Referees

In part two of our look at the pathway to FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 selection for Australia’s technical officials, we examine what it takes to referee at the highest level of international competition.
An elite tournament with elite playing and coaching talent requires officials of equal calibre, who can assert their authority and maintain the order and flow of high-pressure games with split-second decision making. While referees usually do not seek or receive attention for their outstanding performances, officiating a FIBA World Cup validates them as one of the world’s best at what they do.  It is the ultimate reward for years of dedication and sacrifice to an often thankless, demanding and highly scrutinised job. “As a referee, getting selected for a World Cup is comparable to what it means for a player competing at the event,” said Vaughan Mayberry, an NBL official who refereed the FIBA World Championship for Women in 2006 and 2010.  “It’s what you work toward your whole career when you aspire to ref at the international level.” Out of thousands of FIBA licensed referees from 213 member countries, only 56 will be selected to officiate the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 being hosted in Sydney. The referee appointments are expected to be made by FIBA in January or February 2022 and will be based on recent performance in their respective international and elite domestic competitions, such as the Chemist Warehouse WNBL and NBL in Australia. Since the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup’s inception in 1953, 12 Australians have officiated at the prestigious competition. Sharon Arnold, who called the 2002 World Championship For Women, is one of only three Australian female officials to have worked a FIBA Women’s World Cup. Arnold, the NBL’s first female official, helped break new ground at a time when international refereeing opportunities for women were scarce.  Along with Carolyn Tsakalos, she helped pave the pathway for Australian female refs that flourishes today. “20 years ago, Carolyn and myself were pretty much the only Australian women working major FIBA competitions,” said Arnold.  “At the time there was a real distinction between male officials and female officials, and we were able to show the basketball world that female referees could perform the job as capably as our male counterparts, given the opportunity.” “I am proud to think that somewhere along the line I’ve been a bit of a role model for the junior FIBA female referees, by showing what can be achieved when you’re determined to get to where you want to go despite the obstacles put in front of you.” Sharon had applied to her local police force in her twenties, but because she was blind in her left eye, she didn’t get past the medical exam and was devastated. “I made a promise to myself that if I found something I was good at I would never let someone stop me from achieving my dreams again.  When I was told I would never reach the top level of basketball because of my disability, I had to prove them wrong.  It became my driving force.” Becoming a FIBA referee takes several years of education and in-game training to progress up the ranks of local, state and national competitions before an aspiring official can be nominated for a FIBA Referee License by their national federation. Arnold added it is nearly impossible to become a top basketball official without a tremendous amount of commitment. “You have to be available and ready to work games almost anytime and anywhere.  I missed out on a lot of weddings, funerals, kid’s graduations, etc. all to pursue the opportunity to referee at the highest level of the game.  I’ve had to make many sacrifices along the way, but looking back, I wouldn’t change it for the world.” “You really have to work a lot of games to get a look in for FIBA consideration,” said Mayberry.  “It can be a grind, but I just tried to get as many games under my belt as possible and hoped that my performances would speak for themselves.” Successful nominees participate in FIBA referee clinics focused on the explanation and interpretation of international rules, as well as a range of other subjects like how to mediate conflict with a player or coach, how to remain mentally strong under stress and nutrition advice for gameday performance. At the conclusion, candidates who successfully complete a written exam, a physical fitness test and a practical officiating test are awarded their FIBA Referee License for a period of two years. Mayberry commented that the average sports fan would have no idea how physically and mentally demanding elite refereeing can be. “The physical requirements for a FIBA referee have changed significantly over the last 20 years.  It used to be you would turn up and if you could pass your fitness test that would be good enough. Nowadays, referees are on a sophisticated FIBA exercise and nutrition program all of the time with fitness levels tracked closely by FIBA officials.” “You must be as fit as the players.  It is a different type of fitness, but you have to be in peak condition to perform on the World Cup stage.  The better your conditioning, the better you will be at making accurate decisions late in the game and in the tournament when fatigue sets in.” Ahead of World Cup events, the officiating crew is put through their paces at a FIBA pre-competition camp where they consult with experts in nutrition, fitness and psychology. The group builds chemistry and continuity by analysing and rehearsing specific game situations, studying the playing styles of participating teams and discussing rule definitions and interpretations. “Getting the time together with the other refs beforehand is important because you’re bringing in officials from so many different nations and cultures.  At a World Cup event, the officials are thrown into a situation where they have to understand cultural differences and other country’s style of play. “They may have to call a game with other referees they may not know or have worked with previously or have to overcome language barriers.” “There are no warm-up games and you have to be on point from second one.  A referee might do 6-7 games over two weeks, which only gives them a day to find out which teams they’re officiating and who their partners will be. It can be intense when the eyes of the basketball world are dissecting your every decision.” Hosting a FIBA World Cup on home soil is meaningful for the Australian officiating community and the future of our local technical officials programs. “When there is a FIBA World Cup hosted in your country there’s a lot more eyes on the game and I think the exposure and hype around the event will spur on the next generation of female officials,” commented Mayberry. “To be able to officiate the world’s best players on a global stage when the stakes are at the highest was something as a young referee, I never dreamed I would be able to achieve,” said Arnold.  “I hope more young Australians look at the event, get inspired and think that’s something I could work toward and attain.” “I’m just so thankful and humbled to have represented my country on a global stage and I am eager to see more female officials follow suit at future World Cups.” “There are a lot of talented up and coming female referees currently coming through the system here in Australia and hosting a World Cup makes the future of the country’s referee program look even brighter,” concluded Arnold.   FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Friday 23 September – Monday 3 October Sydney Olympic Park Sydney, Australia   To learn more about how to become a technical official in Australia, click here. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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