'Stop lying to each other': referees assignments raise questions over FIBA excuses

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-09-28 11:30

FIBA Europe executive director Kamil Novak says there's not enough data to prove that EuroLeague referees are qualified enough to officiate in the national teams' competition. But BasketNews research shows that the EuroLeague referees took the major part of the assignments in the top 9 domestic league finals series.

Credit: Vid Ponikvar / Sportida/SIPA - Scanpix
Credit Vid Ponikvar / Sportida/SIPA - Scanpix

The king is naked. FIBA executives claim they do everything in their power to ensure the best possible officiating for the worldwide basketball stars in national teams' competitions. However, the EuroBasket 2022 showed that the world's governing basketball body doesn't see the truth about themselves, while the community of our beautiful game obviously does.

When BasketNews asked what makes it impossible to have the referees from the highest-level club competition in the continent (EuroLeague) assigned in FIBA tournaments, it took a few seconds for the FIBA Europe executive director Kamil Novak to begin with his response.

"We would have no criteria. Those officials are not available when we have the windows. So, the EuroBasket is just a peak of the process that starts with the windows. We don't have any evaluations," Novak said in the official press conference in Berlin on the final day of the EuroBasket 2022.

"To have the best, you need to compare, and you need to have a database. It's not like we take the names we know the most. No, there are criteria, and it's very critical. Also, during the season, when the officials are in European club competitions, we also evaluate the referees in their national championships. There are work, strategy, and criteria for selecting the best referees. If we have no data, how can we include [EuroLeague referees]?"

The referee assignment for the domestic league final series is probably the best evaluation of the official you can have for your database.

BasketNews calculated 114 referee assignments made during the 2022 final series of the top 9 domestic leagues, including Spanish, German, Italian, Turkish, French, Adriatic, Greek, Lithuanian, and Israeli leagues.

66 of these assignments (57.9%) were given to EuroLeague referees.

Out of 20 referees assigned for the EuroBasket final stage in Berlin (starting from the Round of 16), only 7 had experience officiating in those Top 9 European league finals in summer 2022 (10 assignments total).

69 EuroLeague referees officiated in the top club competition in Europe, while 42 were assigned in the top 9 domestic league finals. Sixteen of the remaining referees weren't available for the finals since they were from other countries.

None of these 69 referees were invited to work in EuroBasket 2022.

FIBA referees' evaluation process is also more than questionable.

The standards that FIBA created make it impossible for the EuroLeague referees to officiate in national teams' competitions unless they leave the EuroLeague.

Most of the FIBA windows during the club season clash with the EuroLeague game days. Although the second leg of the window is usually scheduled on Sundays or Mondays, EuroLeague referees are still not invited to officiate in those games.

EuroLeague referees don't stand a chance to be evaluated or compared by FIBA criteria because they're not even assigned for the FIBA youth competitions in the summer.

It must be noted that EuroLeague doesn't forbid their referees to officiate in FIBA tournaments.

The evaluation based only on FIBA window games by any means shows the actual level of the referee. NBA players can't play in windows, but their quality is not even questioned when the tournament's final phase comes. Usually, NBA players headline their national teams' rosters.

Moreover, some basketball federations have official referee associations that publicly release their officials' rankings yearly. For instance, the Lithuanian referees association ranked the first and second basketball division referees.

None of the top 5 Lithuanian referees officiated in the EuroBasket 2022.

Regardless, the FIBA Europe executive director wasn't aware of such official information from Lithuania.

"You [journalist] mentioned some rankings, but we don't have any rankings, so we don't work on friendship based officiating. This involves a lot of people who evaluate the referees. I wish you could see the evaluation of the referees after every game. It would be somewhere around 15 pages. Every mistake and how big it was for the game would be analyzed. There is a lot of work behind that," Kamil Novak said.

Former EuroBasket champions (Vincent Collet), the back-to-back EuroLeague champion (Ergin Ataman), one of the best players in the world (Luka Doncic), a few EuroLeague stars (Mario Hezonja, Nicolo Melli), and plenty of others were complaining about the officiating in the EuroBasket 2022 that clearly didn't pick up with the level of the players and coaches.

That's a solid list of basketball people to listen to.

These players and coaches, coming off the NBA and the EuroLeague, are used to the combination of the top level of skill, fastest tempo basketball, and highest athleticism that requires special abilities to handle all those qualities and to make the best decision.

And at least a few of them, including Luka Doncic or Nicolo Melli, sent a clear message: "FIBA should do something about it."

However, FIBA won't do much because they don't consider it an issue.

Novak acknowledged two crucial mistakes rarely seen at the highest level of basketball (the missed technical free-throw in Lithuania vs. Germany and the 22 seconds that had just gone in the Turkey vs. Georgia game).

"Other than that, we didn't have any unexpected or different comments than in the past EuroBaskets," Novak recalled.

"This EuroBasket with all the superstars created tension and expectations, and it's a part of the championship, but I wouldn't say that the officiating was bad," Novak said.

"You would hopefully agree with me that here, in the final phase, we didn't have such huge complaints because everybody understood that it is not a way to get any advantage," Novak said.

Credit FIBA

Players and coaches were allowed to complain in the Berlin press conference and the flash interviews area, just like Nicolo Melli, Gianmarco Pozzecco, Evan Fournier, Belgium, Montenegro, and the Czech Republic did. But it was impossible to do it on the floor.

Every impulsive reaction or harsher discussion was punished with a technical foul, even after the referee's mistake.

The fourth quarter of the gold medal game between Spain and France was a clear example.

Nor referees nor table officials didn't notice that Rudy Fernandez's three-pointer hit the rim. Instead of a second chance possession, Spain got the expired shot-clock violation that was followed by a technical to coach Sergio Scariolo since he saw the clear view on the cube and tried to explain refs made the wrong call.

Thomas Heurtel received a ghost foul call guarding Lorenzo Brown in the last minutes of the game. As the replay clearly showed, the Spanish point guard just slipped on the floor, while Heurtel was tens of centimeters away from him and didn't even touch his opponent. The French guard reacted and got an instant technical foul.

These were only a couple of many obvious mistakes during the tournament.

Most surprisingly, such an approach was dictated by FIBA.

"The head of referees had several meetings with the officials to adjust a little bit. You probably saw that at the beginning of the championship, referees tried to communicate with coaches and players, but it was proven it was not the right way because it was misunderstood. It was more strict in the final phase, so that was an adjustment because we saw that the response from the other side was not appropriate," Novak revealed in the press conference.

Novak suggests looking back at 2015 EuroBasket and checking how much players and coaches were complaining about the referees.

That was the last tournament that involved the EuroLeague referees. Since EuroBasket 2017, referees that agreed to officiate in the EuroLeague competition were out of the conversation for FIBA tournaments.

Novak also said that the role of social media had grown so much that some addressed issues might look exaggerated due to bigger publicity.

But it sounds more like finger-pointing at others and looking for excuses rather than rational thinking and analyzing the current situation, not the past.

It's not the FIBA referees' fault. They're not used to such high-level competition, and they're trying to grow to be able to officiate at that level. But the biggest stage in European basketball can't become a referee clinic when we're talking about one of the strongest national teams' tournaments we ever had.

EuroLeague referees wouldn't avoid mistakes, as the EuroLeague games show. But these officials are best prepared to work in conditions with high pace, tremendous athleticism, and top skill.

With the best EuroLeague players and coaches participating in the EuroBasket and other national teams' competitions, we have the best EuroLeague referees ignored by FIBA. It doesn't make any sense and just shows that the referees are the weakest link punished in this ongoing cold war with the EuroLeague.

When the FIBA executives claim they don't have enough data to prove that EuroLeague referees are qualified enough for national teams' basketball, it makes it hard to believe that FIBA does everything for the good of players and basketball.

As the Belgium national team head coach Dario Gjergja said, let's just stop lying to each other.

"The players are the protagonists. We have to protect them," Gianmarco Pozzecco reacted to technical fouls he and his player received at the crunch time of the quarterfinal game vs. France.

Referees or people from the top can't steal the spotlight and decide what the right way is and what is not.

It's been five years since private interests, and personal ambitions were more important than the quality and pure joy of basketball.

We repeatedly shout about this nonsense since 2017. But did basketball federations do anything about it?

It's time for them to finally protect players and the national teams' game if the world's governing basketball body doesn't see any problem with it.



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