We are into the final stages of the competition now and as the Rio 2016 Paralympics is drawing closer to an end we caught up with our first time referee, Ben Wood to see how is finding it.
It was quite surreal arriving in Rio and riding in the special ITO (International Technical Official) bus using a specialist transport lane – it gave us a sense of importance, flying past dishevelled favelas, brand new towering apartment blocks, stadia and breath taking mountain scenery. The contrasts were remarkable.
My first couple of days were spent collecting uniform, referee kit, exploring the village and being part of a referee clinic where we discussed the points of emphasis for the tournament. There was lots of homework before I work my first game! The clinic was held in the Rio Olympic Arena (used for Gymnastics at the Olympics) and it was an amazing what a moment stepping into the arena and seeing thousands of seats, shiny new floor and flags hanging from the roof.
Two things which interested me greatly were the explanations on the use of the TV replay system and a system called Omega Precision Timing. The way it works is I have a tiny microphone attached to my whistle, which in turn is attached to small pack on the back of my trousers and when I blow the whistle, it will stop the clock in the arena automatically. To start the clock, there is a button on the trouser-pack. It’s a system I’ve seen used before, but never used it myself.
The atmosphere in the village is wonderful – complete strangers stopping each other to introduce themselves, find out where they are from, what event they are competing in etc. It has a truly welcoming, inclusive feeling.
All of the volunteers and staff are brilliant. There is nothing they aren’t willing to do to help out. English is quite widely spoken and those who don’t speak it know exactly who does, so communication is generally not a problem.
Now let’s get onto the reason I’m here. Preparing for my first game was a strange experience. On the first day of competition, I had been nominated to the penultimate game at 9pm local time – Algeria vs China women in the Rio Olympic Arena. Having to wait a full 14 hours from breakfast didn’t really help settle my nerves, but it did give me the opportunity to get into the arenas and watch a few games, soaking up the atmosphere to find ways of reducing the ‘rabbit-in-headlights’ type effect of bright lights, loud music and screaming spectators that I might encounter when stepping on court for the first time.
I can’t really remember much about going out into the arena for the first time, other than my heart rate leapt to about 160BPM (and that was just walking into the court!)
On paper, China were expected to win easily (and they did) but it was an excellent type of first game experience for me. Games with large points spreads allow referees to work on concentration, getting the basics right and also implementing new ideas and philosophies that were covered in our clinic earlier in the week.
It was also a historic moment for Algeria – the first African women’s basketball team to participate in any games, in the first ever games to take place in South America!
And so it was over before I knew it. Six games in five days and I’d have gladly worked two games every day. Before flying out to Rio, I was nervous as to whether I could perform and referee at the level required at a tournament such as this. It took me a couple of games to get into the flow, but by the time I completed my final game I definitely realised like the Channel 4 Paralympics advert “Yes I can”.
For more detailed summary of Ben’s time in Rio please visit his blog