MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The World Military Women’s Basketball Championship is about fostering positive relationships and understanding between countries. Six nations are participating in this year’s competition, but there is one team that beats them all: the referees.
Made up of at least one member from each participating country, the referees’ responsibilities and skills transcend language barriers as they strive for fairness and equality on the court.
“I tell all of our guys at the first referee meeting that we are our own team, and that we win when we do a good job applying the rules and help each team play their best game,” said Head Referee Pat Rosenow, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.
Of the nine referees officiating at the tournament, five represent Brazil, Canada, China, France and Germany. Four are from the United States, the host nation. A referee is not allowed to officiate during their country’s game, so if France is playing with Germany, it is likely that none, if any, of the referees will speak either of those languages. English serves as the lingua franca, as most of the players have some degree of English fluency.
“It’s a little bit hard because I have to speak all the time in English, but the mechanics of refereeing is the same mechanics in Brazil, in Europe and also in the United States,” said Brazil’s referee, Army Sgt. Adriano Almeido.
Even though the potential for referee bias toward their country is removed from the game, that does not stop the refs from rooting for the players.
“There are certain players that catch you,” said U.S. Referee Lolly Saenz. “There may be a player from Brazil or a player from Germany or France, where you really like them. I guess I’ve been refereeing for so long I can see that spark in them and I enjoy watching them.”
Saenz refereed at the first CISM World Military Women’s Basketball Championship in France in 2015, and remembers some of the coaches from last year.
“I’ve seen these coaches before, so it’s like you get to know them all over again and to make new relationships with the players too is so nice,” said Saenz. “I think that’s the fun of it all, to get to experience different countries this way; it’s a blast.”
A high-level tournament comes with high-quality officiating. Saenz started in college forty years ago and currently referees Division 1 college games. Rosenow earned his Fédération Internationale de Basket-ball (FIBA) license in 1984 and referees real courtrooms as a judge. Almeido is selected to be a table official in the upcoming Rio Olympics.
Of all people, they should know what a good tournament is like.
“To me, it’s a great tournament when the games are close and when each team has a really good chance of winning one and losing one,” said Rosenow. “[Conseil International du Sport Militaire] is designed to build friendship through sports, and everyone comes to win the tournament. But we all win when we leave this tournament as friends.”
Three referees were needed for each of the 15 games in this tournament, so some have to ref twice a day.
“It’s tough to referee them because they play so hard all the time,” said Saenz. “It doesn’t matter if they are winning by 20 or losing by 20, they’re still leaving it all out on the floor every time.”
The tournament ended July 29, with Brazil winning the gold. U.S.A took second place, and China will return home with the Bronze.