As Lebanon celebrated its promotion to Level I after scripting a victory over Thailand — a big achievement no doubt — another momentous event went almost unnoticed.

The 23rd FIBA Asia women’s basketball championship on Wednesday witnessed for the first time three women umpires officiating in a match.


Snehal was delighted when told that this indeed was the first time that three women had officiated together. “It’s great. We love it,” said the 24-year-old Indian.

More experienced umpires Yoko Tomita of Japan and Korea’s Sun Hee Hong were equally thrilled about the news. “Woman power,” the two said sporting a huge smile.

The sad fact, however, remains that that there are very few women FIBA referees. “There are 239 referees in Asia, but only a handful of women,” says Lee Kak Kuan, FIBA Asia Technical Director, who is in-charge of nominating umpires for every match in the championship.


“Women referees have the potential and the capability to handle a match competently,” emphasises Kuan, and they showed it in this match. Kuan says women referees should be encouraged more at the grassroot level so that they have the ambition and the desire to officiate at the higher level.

“Only five per cent of FIBA referees in the whole world are women,” he says.

Kuan says women generally prefer to be coaches or players as refereeing involves a lot of pressure from coaches and women don’t like it,” he explains.

“In India, there are only two FIBA women referees,” he adds.

In this championship, there are six women referees (and 25 men) including a neutral one in Finland’s Kati Nynas. That doesn’t mean, insists Kuan, these three are the best (those who officiated in the Lebanon-Thailand match).

Only good referees

“There is never a best referee, according to me only a good referee. Calling foul is subjective. Being at the right place at the right time, seeing the movements and actions of the players and calling it right are the virtues of a good referee,” Kuan says.

“It’s a mindset,” says Malaysian umpire Kok Yew Ho on women taking to refereeing. “For some, it is fun, for many others it means pressure from coaches and spectators.”

Yew Ho believes the situation is changing albeit slowly. Mindset can be changed, after all. As Snehal says, “It all depends on the individual.”

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