Australian referee Matt Wells has been involved in wheelchair basketball for over 20 years, he will be reffing at his final Paralympic Games. He tells us how it all began and the reasons he has stayed involved for so long.
I started refereeing wheelchair basketball in 1995, following an invitation from then Australian IWBF Referee John Drew. I had been refereeing able bodied basketball for many years but was somewhat limited in my career path in Australia. So I decided to give wheelchair basketball a go.
I traveled from Sydney to Canberra to attend a clinic and assist with a tournament that was being run. After what seemed like a very short introductory clinic, I was thrown into my first game and to be honest I did not enjoy it at all. Sure the court, the rings and the ball were all the same but what ensued on that court looked totally foreign to me!
After my first game I said that I was not really interested in doing this (refereeing wheelchair basketball)– and in fact did not referee any other games that weekend. I did, however, spend that weekend talking to players, connecting with them and listening to their enthusiasm for their game. THIS is what hooked me. The people! Upon returning to Sydney I met up with the guys I had met out at a local stadium each week and played the game with them. This was my real start to the game.
Later that year I started refereeing in the National Wheelchair Basketball League of Australia and my journey or should I say my learning really began.
I was fortunate to get involved when I did as I had some great mentors in Australia at that time. Greg Love, Les Hill, Ross Dewell and Sharon Arnold (all former IWBF Referees) to name a few. I was also lucky in that Australia, and more specifically Sydney, was to host the World Championships (then Gold Cup) in 1998 and then the Paralympics in 2000. I worked at both these events in dual roles. Firstly, as a table official, but also as a referee liaison. This allowed me to meet many experienced IWBF officials, but more importantly it allowed me to observe up close how they went about the job.
I qualified as an IWBF Referee in Kitakyushu, Japan in November 2001 and in 2004 had the opportunity to attend my second Paralympics, in Athens, but not as a referee. In Athens I was a member of the TTC.
I cannot describe the excitement when I was finally selected to referee at my first Paralympic Games, the Beijing Games in 2008. This was the fulfilling of the dream, or should I say desire, that had been ignited back in ’95 and fuelled by the Sydney Games.
Rio 2016 will be my third Paralympics as a referee, but it will also be my final tournament as an international referee.
For me there is a lot of work that goes into refereeing at this level. In Australia we have only limited opportunities to referee elite wheelchair basketball. Our Men’s and Women’s National League seasons are relatively short and therefore I rely on refereeing the running game to maintain fitness and calling reflexes. Over the years this takes its toll on the body and it is finally time to stop.
So Rio presents me with very mixed emotions. There is the excitement that is always present when refereeing internationally but there is also the sadness that this part of my career is coming to an end.
I cherish the friendships I have made both on and off the court through this amazing sport. I remember back in 1998 referees referring to the IWBF “family” but did not truly understand. Today as I reflect back on my time, I realise what an amazing family I am lucky enough to be part of.
What am I looking forward to in Rio? Having the best view of the best sport at the Paralympics. I am blessed to work with many amazing athletes and they never cease to amaze me as to how they extend their skills and athleticism. The game has changed so much in my time. Chair design and player skills and athleticism continue to evolve at an amazing rate. I hope that the wheelchair basketball competition in Rio will be remembered as the best ever!