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Five female referees set for Olympic premiere in Tokyo

RIGA (Lativa) - The opportunity to play at the Olympics is the stuff athlete dreams are made of. To referee at the Summer Games can also be a career-defining experience.

It will certainly be a marquee event for five female referees making their Olympic premieres in Tokyo: Maripier Malo (Canada), Andreia Silva (Brazil), Maj Forsberg (Denmark), Amy Bonner (USA) and Viola Gyorgy (Norway) who were part of the "female officials crew" for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Latvia earlier this month. Eight females comprised the crew that also included Virginia Perughini (Argentina), Ozlem Yalman (Turkey) and Andrada Csender (Denmark), with Nadine Crowley (Canada) serving as FIBA Referee Instructor. 

These five officials, who have refereed a lot of important tournaments in international basketball, just worked games at the recent FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Latvia. Malo refereed the heart-stopping Final that was won by the United States over France, 83-81, while Silvia refereed the battle between Canada and Serbia in the Third-Place Game, which the former won 111-92, despite trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half.

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To underscore just how important of an opportunity it is for Silva to be selected as an Olympic referee for Tokyo, she says that her mother became emotional upon hearing the news.

"I am very happy to have the opportunity to go to the Olympic Games," she said. "I am focused and prepared."

Andreia Silva

Malo is also excited about the chance to be in Tokyo. "For me, it's part of the journey," she said. "It's not the final destination, but it's a big checking point, for sure."

All three are back on the court after almost two years of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Malo says it was a very difficult and challenging time because she wanted to referee but no games were played.

Maripier Malo

What did she prioritize during this time? "Physically, making sure to stay in shape," she said. "Mentally, making sure to put myself in every webinar, watching clips, watching NBA games, just to keep myself going, connect with my colleagues and visualize, as if I was on the court."

Eight of the 28 officials at the U19 tournament were women. To be among the first to ever referee at the event was ideal preparation for the Olympics, Malo said.

"I feel very fortunate," she said. "I cannot recall any situation where I was not accepted or welcome. I felt the respect."

And the notable differences between refereeing a men's game to a women's game?

"I think the speed of the game, the above the rim plays, the physicality," Malo said. "Basketball is basketball but it's (men's game) faster, stronger, and also technically, sometimes the craft is different. But both are great."

Forsberg was once a player. She feels fortunate to be around the sport as an official.

"To be a referee is unique," she said. "The most important thing, especially as being a woman doing this, is to open up other girls' or women's eyes that this could actually be a path after you finish playing. This is a very realistic and viable path to stay in the game that we all love so much."

Maj Forsberg

Malo, Silva and Forsberg are good examples of how FIBA is acting on one of its Strategic Priorities for the working cycle of 2019 to 2023 to have more women in basketball across all aspects of the game.

"I think it's fantastic, it's great to feel the support," Forsberg said. "It becomes apparent that we can collaborate and women can contribute at a very high level as well, that's a very good initiative."

Added Malo: "FIBA does an amazing job preparing us and putting the support system around us to feel confident and prepared."

The Tokyo 2020 basketball tournaments for men and women tip-off on July 25 and 26.