Last weekend most of the NCAA conferences played their final tournaments that decide who will participate in the final tournament and possibly win prestigious NCAA Championship. It is safe to say that NCAA Water Polo, on the women's side, is the best water polo league in the world. That is why coaches, players, administrators and officials should be held to the highest standards possible. Many eyes from the international community are on them, including IOC.
Last week, at the FINA World Water Polo Conference, was a lot of talk how we need to protect the integrity of the sport and the overall image. In particular there was a note that coaches have to be more respectful to the referees. However, nobody said anything about referees being more respectful to the coaches, players and to the game itself. For a long time I have been listening from my peers how some of these referees think that they are above everyone. I have to admit that I was in the situation where I have tried to talk to the refs after the game just to get the explanation on some of the calls and I got dissed.
Watching the USC - Stanford game something happened in the second quarter that didn't really make sense to me. Jovan Vavic was issued a red card and sent of the bench even though he was sitting down and seemingly didn't do much to warrant the red card. In my opinion, this was the big call in the maybe second biggest game of the NCAA season. What did coach Vavic exactly do to get the worst possible punishment? I have reached out to the USC staff to find out. They said that they are not really sure and that the whole situation was "really stupid." I have also talked to some of the people that were in the stands and they said that the referee was rather to quick to pull the trigger. I have also asked USC staff if they have received official report after the game with the referee's explanation, and they said NO. How is it possible that the official report is not made after the serious offense like this? Coach did something to receive the capital punishment and yet there's no report of it, or at least it wasn't distributed to the coaching staff. How is this possible?
This is maybe why coaches, parents and players have unpopular views on referees. And rightfully so. USC and Staford staff worked countless hours to analyze their opponents and to minimize their mistakes. They were not in this game by accident. This is one of the reasons why this league is the best in the world and why so many young girls are choosing this sport. Can referees say the same? Can they say that they are practicing their craft? If they are, then it is hard to see how. Athletes get better by practicing and also by coaching. Coaches are guiding them and teaching them. They are pointing their mistakes and correcting them. Sometimes even yelling at them to make sure that their message is conveyed. We didn't hear any of these athletes complaining about that. Actually, they were very thankful for it because that made them the best that they can be. So who is coaching referees? Who is teaching Amber Drury, Steven Rothsart and others? Who is challenging them?
There is evaluator or third official at every game that is supposed to evaluate work of the refs. Do they really evaluate them correctly, we don’t know. These reports, if they are even made, are not for public. Therefore, we don’t know what is in them. What corrections they advised to do? How will they work on their craft? How are they improving? As long as these reports are secret we will not going to know if referees are doing anything. Maybe even bigger question is: Are evaluators qualified to evaluate and advise referees? If these people operated with the narrow minded view (encountered many of them and they are everywhere) then they will coach or evaluate current and new referees to think the same. The ultimate question was and still is: Who is evaluating evaluators?
If ideas are not challenged then we can’t get to the core of the issue. Truth can be desimatted only with critical thinking and asking the right questions. Water polo rules are open for interpretation and if there’s no communication between coaches and referees the game will suffer. Adam Krikorian had very powerful speech at the end of FINA conference where he said that “now is the time put egos aside”. We should listen to great minds of our game.
At the last NCAA men’s finals female referee was blowing the semifinal game. In that game we had one of the most talented players in water polo today. That game was the most bizarre game that I’ve seen last year. That female referee called so many contra fouls that even confused former Olympians that were watching the game next to me. If it was confusing to them I can only imagine how confusing and frustrating was for the other spectators. But what was even worse is that it was confusing for coaches and players. Both coaches received yellow cards and the most talented player got injured while other national team player received brutality call. Did these players turn to violence out of frustration? Maybe evaluators can tell us more. What was even more troubling is that this female referee was rewarded with the privilege of refing the biggest game of the season. After the finals everyone was congratulating her for being a female referee at the men’s NCAA finals. She was celebrated as a star. But for what? Just for being born a girl or for rightfully deserving a seat at the table. Again, this is something NCAA officials should explain.
If we are going to pick people to promote our sport based on “diversity” and “equality” instead of merits then our sport doesn’t stand a chance. Now is the time for real change.