South Africa's basketball community

Referees in SA, is it crisis time?

By on April 23, 2009 in News

For the past few years we have watched the game in South Africa lose a bit of value due to various reasons and recently the men in the middle have been the topic of conversation at numerous tournaments amongst the coaches, fans and organizers. The referees are an integral part of the game and they have so much to contribute to the growth and the quality of our game.

With certain sectors of the game making strides to take the game to the next level especially this year, the officials have unfortunately lagged behind. Maybe you can’t blame their stagnation because like for most of us basketball in this country has been like going to a surfing competition in Durban, year after year… By that I mean that we, as the basketball community, wait for the next big wave and then after riding that wave, we sit and wait for the next one without any reassurances or continuity whatsoever that there will be a next one or how big it will be. So why should the officials strive to improve their standard and professionalism towards the game.There are some good referees in this country but these are few and far between. Some of the more experienced officials have packed their whistles away and left the game due to various reasons. Speaking to various stakeholders around the basketball community, the one word that resonates the most is accountability. You go to various national tournaments and the standard of refereeing is mediocre for the most part with some games being decided by the man in the middle. And you see the same faces, game after game, tournament after tournament, year after year; it’s like if the game is being held to ransom by a few and there is no development of new talent or continuous training for the current crop. Most of these referees get paid for their services and the same cannot be said for some of the administrators, coaches and players that play the game for the love of it.

I recently attended the USSA tournament at the University of Pretoria and the standard of refereeing was shocking and there was almost an unsavory incident during the men’s final. A day later, I watched the Chinese Easter tournament also held in Pretoria and it was strange to see that the referees in attendance were better graded apart from 1 or 2. Why you ask? My immediate assumption was that maybe they got a better rate per game than they did for the USSA tournament. If that was the case it is a sad state of affairs considering that one of the referees present at the Chinese Easter tournament is the national technical administrator in charge of all that is technical and the referees and their training fall into his portfolio. And the crisis is not only at senior level but also at high school level where there is no structure and development programs for officials.

I took a chance to speak to a few people that are currently involved in the game from all over the country. I have contribution from Craig Daniels, who is heavily involved in basketball in Western Cape through Montana Vikings and currently coaches the senior national ladies team; Craig Gilchrist, who has an impressive basketball CV at national level as a player and was nominated as an assistant coach to the senior national men’s’ team; they both spoke to us during the SA team camp at the HPC in Pretoria and I also took some comments that Tshiamo Ngakane made about the same topic on The’Hood ( ). Tshiamo is the GBL general manager and is heavily involved with the Wits basketball club.

Craig Daniels believes that there is no national standard of referees; everyone is doing their own thing. There is no accountability, no evaluation of the referees so that they can improve. As much as the players and coaches need international exposure, our local referees also need it. So maybe bringing in international referees to do clinics and referee a few games can help.

Craig Gilchrist simply said that we live in the land of the referees. There is no control, no structure, no grading system, and no accountability. The standard is not good and there is a need for continuous monitoring and funding to train the referees. We need to get overseas experience to come in and assess the situation and improve the level.

Tshiamo’s comments were taken straight from The’Hood unedited.


The game requires improved standards at all levels. You have a situation where administration is poor and there is a lack of activity and a bunch of people try to step in and make improvements that they believe they can make. You have poor media coverage, lack of available information and a lack of platforms like this one so that people can find out more and discuss the game….and again a bunch of people step in and try and do what they can. Everybody that is dearly passionate about this game steps in where they can to improve the game out of love and dedication to that love. All those people also sell others something when they take that step. And naturally we buy. So the guys that manage basketball need to manage it better. Vic says he’ll get the information out there and I believe him….and I hold him to that…I dont expect anything less from Vic because he took on that responsibility. Nobody said they would pay Vic, in fact nobody even really cares how Vic is making his money but we expect to have the platform and coverage because he committed.

Management must be better because they committed themselves to this.

Coaches should be better because they make a commitment to their players. They should not wait for a clinic to be held to find more information about how to be a better coach. They can do they own research.

Players make a commitment to themselves, their coaches and their fans. They should improve. As a fan I’m not sitting concerned on a daily basis about whether GBL players are earning enough. I’m a fan of Wits basketball…genuine…through and through. I don’t sit there watch and think up all kinds of excuses of why losses happen. Work harder. Sacrifice. When a bunch of people from res come down to watch Wits, if we lose they don’t sit there and say well they don’t have to play well cause they had assignment to do this week. The players committed to representing something or someone and they ought to go all out in doing that regardless.

OFFICIALS!!! They commit too! And before anything else, before discussion about resources, if they commit…then they should do everything in their powers to make sure that they officiate properly because they have undertaken to do that. Administrators in ball don’t get paid for doing their jobs. Its wrong and it needs to change. But that is the case and while they are there they ought to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Officials are the same. They are the only ones in basketball that have never volunteered their services to the sport. THE ONLY ONES! And so be it. They should get paid. They should get paid better than what they are getting paid now…no doubt. But then so should everyone else and payment has never been an excuse for everyone else. It should not be an excuse for the officials. I don’t accept that Yani could have done table better if we paid her more. She committed to it, went to clinics and did her best when she was getting paid jack. People make sacrifices not only for their own benefit but also in aid of the game. So Naftal became an international official because he took his own money and paid to travel to Moz for accreditation, paid out of his own pocket to into Africa for accreditation clinics and so on. He then ends up officiating all over the world in international competitions including the commonwealth games. Now Naftal did all of this when officials were getting paid less than what they are getting paid now. Sacrifice. I don’t know all of them but I wish there were more stories of officials like this. The reality is we could have better officials out there if officials were committed to being better and not committed to being paid more. If all us are only committed to being better if we get paid more then players might as well not go to practice for the next couple of years, neither should coaches and management might as well shut down ball until a sponsor comes and pays us all.

That said the powers that be should do everything to make sure standards all around should improve. We are not only concerned with officials but everything that is required to make the basketball product more appealing to lovers of the game. That means media, team managers, coaches, players, officials and even spectators. More clinics, yes. Incentives, yes. Better accreditation….eish…apparently GBA is supposed to handle this….but yes…i think GBL is handling.” By Tshiamo Ngakane – GBL management ( )

What is your take on the situation and how do we improve it. I don’t think that throwing money at the problem will be the solution because if you are a bad referee, you will not become a better one by being paid an extra buck so there is more that needs to be done.

Article by Victor Shakineza

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There Are 8 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Joe says:

    I have said it before and I will say it again, and all my arguments are based on the following TWO POINTS.

    POINT NO. 1


    Internationally and locally, sport is run through these associations and people in them understand thier importance and put efforts into developing them.

    As ballers, we are SOO obsessed with everything American to an extent that we do not stop for a second and be critical.

    FACT IS, we are located in South Africa within a specific sport framework. As such, for us to succeed we need to understand this framework and use it to our benefit.

    Therefore, for us to be able to go forward effectively, we need to take lessons from local and internationaly bodies who function in similar circumstances. And as I have argued before Australia and Europe should be our benchmarks, NOT the US.

    POINT NO 2

    AGAIN, I have argue this before and I still stand by it.


    There is no way we can build basketball with the notion that if GBL is run succesfully then this will have a domino effect on the rest of bball. As has been stated by Tshiamo and also this article this is not as easy as it seems.

    YES, the success of GBL will promote bball, but it will never result in an automatic holostic development of bball. If this philosophy was true, then the success of Metro should have ensured that Gauteng boys U18 would not have continuously lost to KZN.

    FACT IS, the Football League in SA is the best run in Africa, second only to Egypt. BUT, this has not resulted in the improvement of the standard of players, coaches and officials. On the other hand, the Cricket league in SA falls far behind the one in England, yet our naitional team is the far better then theirs. This also applies to Rugby, where our players are always looking to play in the UK and France, but our national team kicks their butts.

    The answer to the above riddle is that both Cricket and Rugby understand, supports and have implemented the Integrated Development Model. They understand that the succes of a sport is not dependent on a successful Premier league but on effective development structures.


  2. Sanele M says:

    Firstly,let me thank the Victor for allowing us to comment on this topic which I find it long overdue.

    I am also grateful to comment on the topic not only as an administrator now but also as somebody who has been a referee for a long time.The points raised by Craig Daniels and Craig Gilchrist are interesting and require everyone to look at.

    1. I agree with them to say,there is no accountability, no evaluation of the referees so that they can improve. There is no control, no structure, no grading system. Having said that,i would also support the statement that referees are now doing their own thing and there is no “structure” that will give direction in the officiating of our games,development of refering in this country.

    2. There is a point reaised where it sugest to say,”Is it about what the referee get paid at the end of the game?”Craig Gilchist makes an interesting comment where suggest that there is a need for continuous monitoring and funding to train the referees. He also goes on to say we perhaps need to get overseas experience to come in and assess the situation and improve the level which is echoed by Joe above to say we need to look in Europe and Australia and not US.

    The truth be told is that refering in this country requires serious attention.We have a huge crisis.

    When I started refering,there was USSASA.The school program at that time was a good platform for developing referees and it gave alot of referees a practise,experience and we were always looking forwad to the challenge.The National tournament,Engen IPT when it was under USSASA in the late 90s,LoveLife Games which started from local associations right up to National Championships gave us that extra “practise” to improve our skills.

    At that time Melo Mofolo was the National Technical Director and I did not know the likes of Naftal Chongo,Charles Foster,Charles Saunders whom I had only seen on TV.But I remember goin into a tournament where I met Conville Smith who is now an International Referee.

    What is interesting with my story is that,during these times,there was programs for the referees.The referees were accountably to the National Technical Commission.

    I am reminded of the day at the 1999 Engen National Championships in Durban where I refereed ONE game and I was told that i was not yet ready to officiate at this level and I had to be a Grade One.The advantage about those times was that there was support from the Senior guys who kept track of junior referees.So it took 4 years of work,dedication,love and perseverance to get my Grade One.I was then part of the structure,I had mentors.I was invited to Championships over and over.Whenever there was a National Camp in Durba I would be invited to officiate.

    The interesting point to this is most of us during those years went to all these championshis and refereed games without getting paid.I am not suggesting that,the refeees of today should not be paid.Yes the standard of living today has changed compared to those years,however the driver to achieve all of this was passion and the love for the game.

    Tshiamo makes an example with one of the referees I respect in this country who is also a good friend to me,Naftal.Most of the senior referees had to take from their own pockets to further their interest in referring.

    I could go on and on about the story but maybe one needs to ask question around some of the points below:

    1. Where are all the Senior referees that used to referee the games?Cant we co-opt some of them to be Commissioners and help facilitate the programs?
    2. The referring will improve with the game and programs.In support to what Joe raises, what are BSA Strategic Development Plan to improve officials in this country?
    3.Whithout the “correct” structure with the “correct leadership” to implement the programs we will still fail and theirfore,Who is the NTC and what are their objectives?
    4. I agree to what is suggested that we must study other countries methods.What methods are we seem to be suggesting.
    5. In the Rules and Regulations of BSA,there is a Commission which need to look in to the affairs of technical.Who are the people in the committee and Do they have the know how of what technical requires?

    Lastly I want to say that BSA together with stakeholders like Sport and Recreation and Municipalities have a challenge to fix this problem.It is very said to see a referee being the one to decide on who becomes the winner of the game.What I have witnessed in the National Championships is that everyone is invited as long as they have representation from that particular province.It cannot be the case.We need to take the best.I think that senior referees must be brought back into the game and help improve the standard.

    The mistake made also is that,as administrators,we tend to consider the services of the referees last whereas they are vital in our game…

  3. Naftal Chongo says:

    I would like to agree with Joe on both his points: its crucial that BSA and all of the bodies that are associated with it be not only functional but also occupied by competent and passionate individuals.

    As a FIBA referee, I have been fortunate to experience different basketball cultures and i must say that in SA we had a good thing going.

    I feel that from the times of Mello Mofolo, Ian Wood and Charles Saunders, the quality of officiating has in general degraded.
    Back in those days structures were in place and mentoring and monitoring systems were in place so that an up and coming referee has all he needs to succeed (I am a product of that).

    Lately, not only do we have a lack of referees in terms of numbers but also when it comes to quality but the latter can be as a direct result from the lack of proper structures from the top (BSA, GBA, Districts, Local leagues).

    Lastly, I feel that its the responsibility of the referee himself to invest in himself so that he become a better referee. Personal investment in time, reading and research, equipment and most importantly i feel that a junior ref needs to get a senior referee who can mentor and guide him/her along the way.

    We have great talent in this country though some of those talented refs often get a little too arrogant and ahead of themselves and that can shadow one progress and career as a referee.

    GBL and ProSport are doing all they can to improve the level of officials but like Joe said, this will lead us nowhere if BSA does not have its house in order.


  4. Barry Radloff says:

    Its interesting that it is pointed out that the standard of refereeing was better at the Chinese Easter Tournament. Being involved there, I was partly dissapointed at the level of some of the officiating, at some of the games. I am mortified to think that was worse at another tournament. In fairness they were not too bad overall.

    However, the table officials were abismal. Often getting the scoring wrong, allocating incorrect fouls and the likes. Even the basics of knowing when the time needs to run was an issue.

    I agree with Naftal’s comment about the mentoring etc. I remember sitting with Charles and discussing the standard of refereeing at one tournament, while he was evaluating and grading his collegues. After a few games there was a feedback session and points to work on.

  5. baller says:

    can someone please mentor “Tony” not sure if its his real name.

  6. Neo says:

    As much as we want basketball to be a strong code and independent code of sport, we must also be open to suggestions on how we can get to that position.

    The situation that is being faced by the officials is the same situation faced by the national team.

    1. The top refs in SA, not that they are miles ahead of the worst, are all products of the past system which was ignored. The current crop of players are products of the past systems. The past systems I mean, the regular competitions, clinics, provincial and national tournaments. All these participants are benefited from the programmes that were avail;able then. Where do the young up and coming players oor refs get to practice their skills, national tournaments? Remember national tournament can only accomodate so many refs and p[layers.

    2. We need to look at the grading system used by other codes like netball. I forunate enough to work with netball on a regular basis and the grading system for their umpires is very effective. You must firstly umpire at school level then district only then can you be considered for provincial grading.

    We have a pool of about 6 refs in Gauteng who do whatever they want because they know that they are “irreplaceble” and the same refs are always the once who are called for tournaments year in and year out. Clearly BSA must realise that they need to invest in new, hungrier refs who want to learn the art of officiating. Without officials basketball is dead and the sooner we realise the better. Improving refs will automatically improve our level of playin, lord knows we need to improve that department.

    We can have all the sponsorships of 1994 in our account but if we don take care of the small details we might as well run basketball from a spaza shop.

  7. K says:

    where does FIBA fit into all of this? where does NOCSA fit into all this? who is our sports ombudsman? what kills me about this, what absolutely drives the dagger through my heart and soul is that the solutions are actually so easy to implement. all you need is for the people with power to listen, be willing to engage, and acknowledge those who would give their right arms to see basketball succeed. that’s what kills me, absolutely just takes every ounce of energy out of my body. they are not even willing to engage……

  8. Joe says:


    We no longer have NOCSA but SASCOC and they do not fit anywhere in this, nor does FIBA.

    Basically, basketball’s programme and perfomance lies in the hands of ballers, SASCOC and FIBA only intervene if there is a dispute.

    As I have argued above and always, Intergrated Development is the answer.