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Nisha Pongi Meneses: A Trailblazing Referee

HONIARA (Solomon Islands) - In the dynamic world of basketball, where players often take centre stage, there are unsung heroes who contribute significantly to the game's integrity and fair play - referees.

One such remarkable individual officiated at the Pacific Games, Nisha Pongi Meneses, a 37-year-old referee with a passion for the sport that has spanned 18 years.

Nisha's journey into the world of refereeing began at the age of 18, inspired by her uncles who recognized her potential and encouraged her to join their ranks.  It was not an easy path, but her determination and love for the game fuelled her progress.

She embarked on her refereeing career by attending a two-week FIBA Course, designed for those with an interest in officiating.  At that time, Nisha was already a player for a basketball club, and she, along with six other females from her team, took the leap into refereeing.  The challenge was real - more young boys than girls were pursuing refereeing at the time.

Navigating through her referee courses, Nisha faced a common challenge, limited practical training.  Most courses were theory-based, and the absence of refresher courses compelled her to turn to online resources to enhance her knowledge.

“Without a head referee to provide us with refresher courses, we had to go on Google, download new rules and read,” Meneses said.   “With theory being different from practical, you would understand the rules, but you would also be unsure to apply it on the court”.

She initially started refereeing in primary and high school leagues, but unfortunately, they were phased out.  Despite this setback, Nisha persisted and discovered her specialty in officiating Filipino community basketball leagues.  This offered her a steady platform to continue developing and refining her refereeing skills.

The global pandemic threw a curveball, putting a pause on the leagues that kept Nisha actively refereeing.  However, her dedication persisted, and when the opportunity arose, she grasped it with both hands.  The 2023 Pacific Games hosted in the Solomon Islands marked her debut at the international level.

Reflecting on her journey, Nisha recalls the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she was slated to referee but ended up joining the national 3x3 team due to player shortages.  Despite the detour, the experience added valuable layers to her understanding of the game.

Participating in the Pacific Games 2023, Nisha had the chance to interact with FIBA licensed referees from Australia and New Zealand.  Their guidance, and insights opened her eyes to nuances she had previously overlooked, reaffirming the importance of continuous learning in officiating.

Aligning with FIBA’s Strategic Priority, Women in Basketball, the identification and development of female referees, like Nisha, in the Oceania region has eclipsed expectations with the highest number of female basketball referees officiating at the 2023 Pacific Games.

“We have a clear focus in our region to increase the number of female referees officiating at local, regional, and international events,” FIBA Executive Director - Oceania, Amanda Jenkins said.  “The 2023 Pacific Games was a great opportunity to showcase the level of female referee development.  As a qualifying event for the FIBA Asia Cup Pre-Qualifiers, and the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, Division B, the Pacific Games demand the best officials, and to have that demand serviced by capable women from across Oceania is a great achievement.”

Nisha's goals for her refereeing career extend beyond borders.  She aspires to gain more experience by officiating at international basketball games, including tournaments like the FIBA Melanesian Cup and Under 15 and Under 17 Oceania competitions.  

In her journey, Nisha has found a voice for herself and built confidence through refereeing.  She encourages more females to venture into officiating, hoping that her story will inspire young girls to take up the whistle and rule the court with knowledge and authority.  For Nisha, refereeing is not just a duty; it's a fun and empowering experience that has shaped her as an individual, allowing her to master the rules and grow as a confident woman in the world of basketball.