What kind of sensational European Basketball Championship is that already? Most nations have one or more NBA players in their ranks, with Nikola Jokic (Serbia), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Luka Doncic (Slovenia) even featuring some of the NBA’s biggest stars on the floors. There are surprises – world champion Spain loses against Belgium, the basketball nation Lithuania is still waiting for its first victory – and above all the German team not only thrilled the 18,000 spectators in the hall. In view of this, the poor performance of the Fiba referees is all the more negative.
A forgotten free-throw for Lithuania; an illegal attempt to have that free-throw taken far too late; 22 seconds ticking off the clock without anyone noticing – these are just the blatant mistakes that the referees at the European Championships have made so far. “It’s terrible,” Croatian ex-NBA player Mario Hezonja complained about the referees, even though he had just easily won a game.
The tournament suffers from the absence of the best European referees. They whistle for the Euroleague, which is organized by the clubs and is in dispute with the international basketball association Fiba. The conflict has intensified in recent years. One result of the dispute is that at European and World Championships, Fiba only uses referees who referee at European level in third- or fourth-rate competitions. They meet top-notch NBA or Euroleague players whose physical, fast-paced game seems to overwhelm them. “The Fiba referees allow a lot here, they don’t whistle like they do in the Euroleague,” Alba Berlin’s Jaleen Smith, who plays for Croatia, told Eurobasket.
It’s also not the first Fiba tournament where the referees can’t keep up with the level of the players. The association urgently needs to find ways to raise the level of its referees. An agreement with the Euroleague would be conceivable, so that their referees can whistle at European championships or Fiba referees can gain experience in the Euroleague. This tournament and Europe’s basketball fans deserve better.