You couldn’t even ref yourselves: A reality check

Why you are the cause of your misplaced hatred of referees: A brief history.

Spencer Kassimir

Why you are the cause of your misplaced hatred of referees: a brief history.


Once upon a time, there were games with no referees. Gentlemen were said to simply play the game in pursuit of the Muscular Christianity ideals of self-improvement and fair play, manly and gentile.

The only problem is that this is entirely a lie and, at best, grossly misrepresenting the facts we know to be true.

In the beginning, captains and players were the referees. Maybe this is a technicality but the role encompassed more than just playing the game and leading the team. Thus, we recognise that there has always been a need for decision makers where disputes occurred.Where there would be a referee or umpire to solve a dispute, the captains on the field, would come together and have a discussion and then find the sporting solution to their problems. The same was for the touchlines but with players filling these roles.

Thus, we can see that, no matter who was charged with the duty of refereeing, it has been and will likely always be needed whether a disagreement is the result of blatant cheating, a difference in interpreting the laws, and/or viewing an act differently due to parallax.

Now, whether you believe having captains in such a role is a pie in the sky bad idea or you truly think that people 150 years ago were more honourable than today, the result is the same. We now have separate people, with a distanced bias, in the role of referees and umpires.

Having players on a team, in any capacity was always a bad idea even though the concept was in alignment with the zeitgeist of those seeking personal improvement through the zeitgeist of Muscular Christianity. First and foremost, this was a bad idea that led to lots of problems due to perceived and actual biases. Eventually, in many football codes, these polite debates on how to solve a dispute ended up in good old-fashioned fisticuffs.

When there is a perceived bias to begin with, it is already hard enough to come to a decision over the distance of five yards. Now imagine a situation where a defending side claims that the attacking player stepped out of bounds 90 yards away from the goal, thereby disallowing the points scored but the attacking side claims that there was no such infraction. Do you simply agree to split the difference?

Mind you, in the sports where spectatorship has always been encouraged such as Aussie rules, baseball American and Canadian gridirons, and rugby league, fans have and still do go ballistic over bad decisions and have always been vocally supportive to the home team and dissenting of advantage towards a visiting side.

©Andy Hooper/ Daily Mail

Let’s take a moment to put ourselves into the shoes of spectators of these times. Imagine, you have travelled, possibly for miles on foot and, if you were wealthy, horseback, to watch a game as part of your one day of the week you did not work to be entertained by the great athletes and get your mind off of your troubles. You show up at the ground and BAM! You find yourself sitting in the freezing rain watching a bunch of guys sitting around practicing their negotiation tactics after every single disagreement! Imagine what spectators were thinking… ‘this is not interesting. I could have gone to a courtroom to watch this. This is not what I want to be doing on my one day off…’

Not only was this gentlemanly ideal tedious for the players but it was awful for the crowds. Though there were times when things became interesting again in cases where punches were thrown and melees occurred but this was not the norm.

You read it here first. You the player and you the fan are to blame for us having referees. Players, you couldn’t work it out amongst yourselves; fans you couldn’t stand watching the players not figure it out! You demanded referees yet today, you both revile those you demanded.

But the history of how we got here is quite fascinating.

If we need referees, who will do it for free? The answer is very few since even the lowest levels and youngest ages of competition in most sports are given some financial incentive.

From the old perspective, if players are not permitted to be paid, why should referees? Some would say there is glory and other gains from being a part of the competition but very little of this for one who officiates. Moreover, it may be needed to ensure fairplay and consistency in the competition.

In sports with an early form of professionalism that was more like subsidised amateurism through “broken time” in work, like rugby league, how much should referees be paid? The status quo has that is held today is exponentially less. Today’s NRL player average is $371,000 whereas the referee’s is around $173,000.

NRL referees are paid considerably less than the average NRL player ©NRL

If they are paid, and they too are part-time, there should not be an expectation that calls will be made correctly all the time, however, we want them to have the knowledge of full-time professionals without paying them to be because we want the right decision. Clearly, there is a disconnect since, unlike players, referees do not receive the admiration and support of the stands. As such, should we take into account that the referees will cop flack from the crowd for every call regardless of it being right or wrong? If we pay them full-time, why are we not paying our athletes full-time wages? If we are paying our athletes professional wages, and they still make mistakes, should we pay referees full-time as well, and if we do, should they make the same as the athletes?

So many questions and so few words to fit in one article especially since this all comes down to a single point of origin. Whether or not referees are paid enough is a matter of opinion but they are paid less for a job that has arguably higher stakes. Even with video reviews, many would argue that it makes the job easier but it also makes the line even thinner to walk for those that are also obligated to keep the game moving at an enjoyable pace for viewers.

Players couldn’t and still can’t handle refereeing themselves and fans are still as unhappy with the results over 100-150 years later. As a result, we still have a completely inconsistent set of expectations for those charged with the sacred duty in ensuring adherence to the laws and spirit of the game while having them do so for a fraction of the pay.  If we need referees, who will do it for free? The answer is very few since even the lowest levels and youngest ages of competition in most sports are given some financial incentive.

Spencer Kassimir

Slingshot or not: Do the posts need updating in rugby league or union?

Fifty years ago, the NFL changed its uprights to the slingshot shaped ones we know today. Are the rugby codes in need of an update?

Spencer Kassimir

Fifty years ago, the NFL changed its uprights to the slingshot shaped ones we know today. Are the rugby codes in need of an update?


We all know that a ball grounded against the posts is a try in union and no try in league and usually don’t care why. According to my colleague, Dr. Kevin Ball Ph.D. of Victoria University, a less frequently known fact is that grounds utilised by both rugby union and rugby league teams that don’t change the uprights are out of spec with one of the codes. This is because the width for union is 5.6 but only 5.5 for league. This may not sound like much but it is essentially enough for a union player to have successfully made an attempt at goal instead of bouncing off the posts.

But otherwise, why would we want to change our beloved H shaped goalposts?

For those followers of either codes but not the gridiron, it has been 50 years since the NFL switched to the “slingshot” model. Two Americans, retired sports writer/editor Joel Rottman came up with it while staring at his fork along with colleague coach Jim Trimble while having lunch in Canada. Why? Because it would make the game safer and would prevent players from gaining advantage by using the posts to set a pick.

From 1966 onward, the Canadian Football League has used the new shape and from 1967, the NFL has as well. After all, the two were having that fateful lunch in Montreal so why wouldn’t the CFL get it onto the field first?

But, more importantly, the history of how these came to be requires some explaining. Unlike in most countries where professional sport dwarfs that of all others, college football still reigns supreme in America. This was even more so the case in 1920, when the NFL was founded. It used the classic H shaped goalposts and placed them on the goal-line just like in both rugby codes. This is because that was what college football did and college football did it because the origins of the sport are in pre-split rugby. Still this was a long time after the most influential event that split the North American games from their English counterpart. In 1879/1880 the scrimmage/scrummage ceased to be contested and, as a result of ball hogging and boring games, a three down restriction was brought in two years later.

But still, it was not long after that in 1927, the NFL followed suit with college football and retreated the goalposts to the back of the end zone as a way of reducing kicking attempts. This was not to last and in 1933, the NFL decided to make its own rules and moved the posts back up to encourage more kicking due to ties.

Digital Camera

But the next step was not entirely linear to the “gooseneck” shape we have today. Until 1967 as exemplified in the AFL-NFL Championship Game (in hindsight referred to as Super Bowl I), the design was changed to that the bottom half of the H was recessed but the top crossbar and top half protruded forward to sit over the goal line.

For those that say the Y shaped NFL style is just too much, maybe this is something rugby folk should be looking at.

No they are not the prettiest but they are 1) safer in reducing collisions at the line 2) prevent players from using them to their advantage and 3) do so without changing the distance needed to be kicked.

However, if the goal is to reduce the amount of goals kicked, we could simply move the current H or even the broken H shaped design to the deadball line.

It is hard to find someone that follows rugby union to say that a game of aerial ping pong that is then won entirely off of penalty goals is more exciting than hard fought tries scored. The National Rugby Championship (NRC) has attempted to change the strategy of coaches in Australia by assigning different values to the goal after try (usually two but now three) and penalty kick (usually three but now two). Whether or not this grows beyond the comp has yet to be determined but it may just go the way of that white card experiment.

150-old goalposts
Old NFL goalposts @Packervilleblog

In rugby league, this means that there would be at least eight more metres to kick when trying to break that tie to win in the final seconds of the game. Some find the status quo exhilarating but others would argue that it is 80 hard fought minutes reduced down to who is arbitrarily lucky enough to have the ball in their hands as the buzzer sounds. With a ten-metre retreat, and just two markers off the ruck, it is understandably frustrating since, unlike union, this provides a major advantage to the kicking side.

But what about the Y shaped goal? If we are so keen to keep the goal over the goal line, would it serve a purpose? It provides only one post to come in contact with or to use for advantage and, by design, it is recessed into the in-goal area, which would allow defenders to line up in front of it. Since we are this far down the rabbit hole, there is always the option of suspending the uprights as they do in the Arena Football League (also AFL) though, even with tethers strapping them to the ground, it is likely they will sway in the wind!

It is unlikely that any of the above ideas will ever be put into practice unless a game is being played on a field designed for American football but it is important to note that, though its intended design and use in the CFL is still being felt today as they still sit on the goal line, Rottman and Trimble’s slingshot only maintained its purpose for eight years in the NFL. For all the eight seasons from Super Bowl II through to Super Bowl IX, the wishbone sat up front like it’s Canadian cousin. After that season, the NFL decided there was too much kicking and decided to move them back behind the dead ball line. The idea reducing the number of posts in half for safety while maintaining a goal line stance were no longer needed. As such, if we in the rugby codes are serious about reevaluating the goalposts it is crucial that we establish what we would like to achieve in any sort of changes and, as such should keep this final piece of the puzzle in mind as it has remained unchanged for more than half a century on the gridiron.

Spencer Kassimir

Analysing the proverbial elephant known as sport: Assimilating information from a series of inherently limited perspectives

How does our role and the way in which we view sports affect how we perceive (both) the process and outcome?

Spencer Kassimir

How does our role and the way in which we view sports affect how we perceive (both) the process and outcome?


This is not the proverbial “elephant in the room” though one could argue that it’s always been one. The elephant referred to is the one being described in the story of the blind men and how it relates to perception and enforcement of laws with inherently limited information based on the position where one is placed. One blind man says the animal is like huge fans. The next like a wall. Another like a massive spike. The fourth, like a tree trunk. And finally, like a rope. The moral is that when a person does not have the ability to grasp all of the aspects of existence and/or is limited by a sense, our description is restricted by the limited amount of knowledge we are able to register and then recount.

Refereeing is very much like this and, in today’s televised game, rule/law changes are dominantly focused on the end product of a game being as entertaining to a spectator as possible. Rarely, if ever, is the ability to referee and enforce the new regulation given equal thought. When it is, it usually is given much less weight to tip the scales in making a final decision. After all, the prime focus of professional and amateur sport is about providing spectators the best experience and, subsequently, amateur players the best training to make it to a professional level of competition.

Starting in 1951, there have been a series of back and forth law changes on the distance, if any, the defensive line had to retreat to be on sides. Originally it was no yards, then five yards, then none again, three and then, in 1966, five again. Mind you, this was the last change under yardage and was entirely conducted by the New South Wales Rugby League before 1967’s introduction of limited tackles (4) in 1967. Think about how these distances, compared to today’s ten-metre retreat change the perception and ability to enforce the laws.

Back then, the defensive line originally lined up with no retreat then only had to retreat 5 yards in the past before the current standard of ten metres. The switch to the current standard of ten-metres is more than unnoticeable. Though the 10m retreat was created to open up the game and encourage more passing even though, in practice, it encouraged more first received hit-ups for quick yards. Yet, one has to wonder what impact this has to referees. The ability of a referee to hold a defensive line at five metres compared to ten while still being able to focus on the ruck and the attacking line is more than unnoticeable. 1. It is clear how much more difficult it is to see the action in the ruck from 10 metres back than five. 2. The increase of distance and shift of angle causing a change in perception, in this case, parallax, is also complicated by the fact that the referee must now cover more area to keep an eye on both the defensive line and the attack is also covers more area and does so at a greater distance. For those not familiar with the concept of parallax, it is defined as, “the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions…” In practical sport terms, what baseball umpires defined as the “strike zone” changed across the board when they stopped holding a massive padded barrier in front of them for protection because they no longer had to look over and around the cushion.” This same logical applies to where the referee must stand from in rugby league as well as all sports and aspects of life.

Having been born and raised in the US, the elephant analogy was taught to me from the perspective of football a.k.a. American gridiron (as opposed to our three-down cousins to the north in Canada).   The platoon style of play that originated and proliferated around World War 2 amplified this since it eliminated athletes from playing offense, defense, and special teams. What the offensive lineman, quarterback, halfback, fullback, wide-receiver, and tight-end see are all different and they are only playing attack. Compared with the defensive lineman, line-backer, cornerback, as well as safety, let alone the kicker and punter brings even more to the number of ways our “blind men” are able to describe the elephant. But this is only the player’s perspective.

American football has multiple referees in action

The American gridiron has evolved to be so complex that it requires seven on-field officials and even these lines can become blurred with 14 eyeballs on the field from the referee, umpire, head linesman/down judge, line judge, field judge, side judge, and back judge. Each of these individuals is charged with overseeing, interpreting, and enforcing different aspects of the game and still, many penalties and calls are missed. Still, this does not include the “calls to New York” where the footage is viewed on screen after the fact. There is on old saying that there is holding on every play so, as an offensive lineman, it is not about not holding but rather, not getting caught. Even still outside of the black and white rules of the game, there is then a whole arena of grey zones. For example, when does a receiver become a runner and how do we know? This was the prevailing issue last season for the Philadelphia Eagles even before the Super Bowl; one has to wonder why each led to different results. However, grey-zones aside, when a new law or interpretation is enacted, assuming it is clear and requires no assumption of a player’s intent, how many match officials does it take to make sure it is enforced?

The answer is different for each sport and even changes between different divisions and countries at the same level of competition simply based on national borders. Such is the case in rugby league where Super League and lower divisions in Australia have only one referee with two touch judges whereas top level have two of the former. Having accepted that even with seven officials that still do miss calls in American gridiron, what is the impact of the extra referee in Australian rugby league? Are more calls being made correctly by having the extra pair of eyes or is it like being an extra touch judge that, at many times, unbeknownst to the crowd, has seen an infringement but, based on the limited powers and visibility to the referee(s) from the sideline, frequently go unnoticed? Are we achieving the goal with two referees in light of the greater difficulty to take in, decipher, and act on the even greater amount of information that a referee takes in since we dropped back to ten metres? In bringing this back to the point, is the elephant known as rugby league being described in a greater level of completeness from an officiating perspective and, if so, is it being put into practice? Like the American gridiron, the above does not include reviews from the additional official charged with reviews on screen a.k.a. the bunker.

Having been exposed to Australian rules, rugby league, and rugby union at 16 years of age, thankfully due to channel surfing at 11pm on a Thursday, it is fascinating that these oval ball football codes have such starkly different interpretations even with respect to terms that most would believe are completely not open to interpretation. What is considered a catch in American football when going out of bounds is different whether one is playing high school/college or NFL and all of these differ with the interpretation of the AFL (Australian Football League). Simply put, the tail of the elephant has been described but is it a rope, a whip, or snake? Even if we are to assume that it is a rope, for what purpose does it have? Pulling, tying, lassoing?

The great Soviet Expressive Realist film director Sergei Eisenstein once said, “you should not pursue analogies and similarities too far – they lose their conviction and charm and begin to sound garbled or contrived.” Fearing I have overstepped this boundary, the analogy still holds water and, as those examining sport, it is crucial to ask ourselves the question, what part of the elephant of our chosen sport have we been focusing on and how can we look to the other parts of this massive beast.

Spencer Kassimir

Why has darts grown in popularity so quickly?

Darts has grown into one of the most watched sports across Europe and the attendances are only going in one direction.

Jack Witham

Darts has grown into one of the most watched sports across Europe and the attendances are only going in one direction.

Darts was traditionally seen as a pub game ©PeterPan23

Darts used to be known as a pub sport to many people. That has now changed drastically, with crowd numbers being in the thousands and prize money being as high as it’s ever been before. Both the number of fans and the number of players have greatly increased in recent time, but just why has such a simple pub game dramatically grown on a worldwide level?

For starters, there is the addition of players with more flare than ever before. At no point can Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor be criticised; it was him who began to put the sport on the map. The 16 time world champion is a credit to the sport, however his showmanship was limited, letting his arrows do the talking the majority of the time. A leg or set was won with very limited reaction. There is no problem with this; in fact this is the way some feel the game should be played.

Nowadays though, players really like to give it ‘the big un’ when winning just a single leg. In a World Series Final at the back end of 2017, Gerwyn Price and Corey Cadby turned around and celebrated when hitting a ton or more, much to the amusement of many fans who were watching the game. Although the incident was silly, it is what fans want to see. They want the drama and the controversy because it is what they have paid to see.

Players now are just far more entertaining than they used to be. Michael Van Gerwin wins almost everything, and has done so with a certain flashy style. An MVG in full flight is exactly what the punters want to see. The walk ons are also very crowd friendly. ‘Snake bite’ Peter Wright dances across the stage every single time he comes on, immediately getting the crowd involved, and Daryl Gurney sings Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which is always a crowd favourite. The sport just seems to have developed a more relaxed atmosphere than it ever used to have.

The amount of players participating has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, but why? Well, the prize money that is now on offer for winning tournaments is certainly very eye catching. Rob Cross, the 2017 World Darts Championship winner received a massive £400,000 in prize money. Not bad for somebody in their debut season. When Phil Taylor won the World title in 2000, he received £31,000. This not only shows the growth of the sport but also underlines the phenomenal work that PDC chairman Barry Hearn has done for the sport.

The overall prize money has risen from £500,000 to £15 million since Hearn took the PDC hot seat. He has managed to take a pub game to the second highest rated TV watch of 2017. The sport is in good hands, and with big sponsorship deals continuing to come into the sport, the growth is only going to continue to rise.

The sport is ideal for fans now. Not only is the quality at outrageous levels, there is no longer rules where you must sit down and behave yourself. It is perfect to watch world class talent whilst enjoying a beer (or 10) with others. Barry Hearn once quoted “Darts is the only sport that has a partnership of excitement of a party and world class sport. I don’t know another sport that creates atmosphere on that basis.”

Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), German Darts Grand Prix (GDGP)
Party atmosphere at the darts ©Sven Mandel

This is evident almost every Thursday in the winter when the Premier League is being played. The crowds are outstanding, sell outs every week at venues all around Europe. Wayne Mardle of Sky Sports often reminds viewers of the sell out crowd of 400 people at Stoke’s Kings hall. Well just a couple of weeks ago, the Mercedes Benz Arena had a world record darts attendance of 12,000, underlining the rapid growth of the sport.

The crowd is often very much like it is at football, with chanting often taking place as well as jeering and whistling. But unlike the football, the involvement of the crowd at darts is genuinely always in good spirit. Chants of “boring boring tables” and “feed the stands” are often sung back and forth during the World Championships at the Alexandra Palace. There are rarely any malicious songs chanted during the games, and players are usually given a huge amount of respect whilst playing.

Whilst crowds begin to grow at venues, the amount of viewers watching on Sky Sports has also increased. 960,000 people watched the 2015 World Darts Championship final played between Van Gerwin and Peter Wright. This was 75,000 more than the Premier League football match between Chelsea and Southampton on the same day.

Whilst many still see darts as a pub sport, there is no denying that it has fast become a sensation, especially throughout Europe. Just how long will it take before it becomes a worldwide hit, and we see more money come from countries such as China to develop the sport further.

For the time being, darts is in a good place, and for the immediate future it will continue to be watched by millions and the party will continue.

Jack Witham .png

Obsessive shortening of sports: Is humanity’s attention span dwindling that much?

Americanised, short format sport is taking away the pure style that has been played for hundreds of years.

Harry Everett

Americanised, short format sport is taking away the pure style that has been played for hundreds of years.


Twenty20 cricket becoming T10 cricket, Tie Break Tens and Fast4 Tennis, Golf Sixes are all examples of traditional English sports being shortened to try and generate more interest. Injected razzmatazz from loud, pumping music, to freebie flags and signed equipment all have the idea of appealing to the lesser sports fan.

But does all this Americanised, short format sport take away from the pure form of the sport that has been played on our shores for hundreds of years?

What if Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal was to obtain a serious injury during the Tie Break Tens, four days before the Australian Open which puts them out of the entire first Grand Slam of the season? Yes, injuries can be obtained doing almost anything in life, but a risk/benefit analysis comparison can weigh up what it’s best or worthwhile partaking in. When the pay-cheque is $250,000 for three tie-breaks to 10 matches, it is easy to see why some of the biggest names signed up to the third event of this type in the Margaret Court Arena last month.

Golf is perceived to be one of the slowest, dullest sports to watch by many, but the introduction of a shot clock, very similar to the 30 second countdown used between Tennis serves, is hoping to change that. There has also been the increased participation in Speed Golf of late. The inaugural World Championships in 2012 show that this sport is being taken seriously worldwide and offering yet another variation on a quintessential British sport. The professional golfers well known globally do not participate in this new phenomenon of Speed Golf, it is an entirely new form of the sport, allowing a completely different crowd of people into a sport under the `umbrella title’ of golf.


It’s worth recognising that not all sports have only had reduced forms created in recent times, Rugby Sevens was played as far back as the 1880s in Scotland. The world-famous Hong Kong Sevens event was launched in 1976 and has inspired many other tournaments from Wellington to Dubai to spring up and, come the turn of the millennium, form the World Rugby Sevens Series. This competition has since expanded to consist of ten tournaments in ten different countries, played in five different continents. Ruby Sevens is loved for more attacking, ball-carrying rugby, but others could argue Rugby League provides this over Rugby Union, it could be argued Sevens simply takes the League principles to even more of an extreme away from the scrums of Rugby Union. Rugby players tend to commit and be an expert in one particular format, but this does not stop players switching codes or dabbling in playing sevens as part of a professional Rugby Union/League career.

Cricketers however commonly play three different formats at professional level, whilst at grass-roots, club cricket leagues are only played as one-day competitions in England. The problem of players having to work meaning they can often only give up one day at a weekend to play the sport. It would be interesting to see how many current club cricketers would be interested in playing numerous-day cricket if it were offered to them though. Cricket is perceived to be a very slow-moving sport, and this is a fair description of the longer formats in the professional game. During T20 cricket however, fielders spend far less time faffing about between balls and overs, they all run to their fielding positions quickly, not waiting for the captain’s instructions, knowing exactly where they are wanted for a left or right-hander respectively. You do not see this in test cricket as much, when they are only expected to get through 13 overs in an hour, and that is without regular fetching of balls back from the crowd. If test cricketers were encouraged to hurry up a little between balls, thus speeding the game up as a whole, it could encourage more people to spectate and keep more people captivated in an age-old traditional sport. Players are so fit these days that the skill-level would unlikely deteriorate if the Umpires encouraged swifter movements between deliveries.

Boro Clinton Perrin batting (1 of 1)
Is red ball Cricket fading? ©JMSPORTPIX

If you were to (like me) have followed nearly every match of the recent India tour of South Africa you would notice that there was far more interest and Social Media comment on the South Africa v India test matches than the one-day matches, despite the former being very low scoring affairs. The perception that modern cricket fans only want to see big sixes launched into the crowd is not as widely thought. Some of the most exciting matches in all formats in recent years have been on bowler-friendly-pitches where both sides have really struggled to get the ball to the boundary, requiring real skill and concentration from determined batsmen to do their job. It would be silly of me to say that test cricket is not, to some extent, dying amid the short form love-in, but different people have different desires as sports spectators and because of that these new creations of short format sports should not have to extinguish the traditional longer forms. All forms of tennis, golf and cricket should be allowed to co-exist in harmony and the fan allowed to follow whichever format(s) they wish, as it seems to work quite fine in the different forms of Rugby.

Harry Everett

Too Much Change in Sport: The Case of Basketball

Over the years, Basketball has turned itself into a global phenomenon. Is it time to take it that one step further?

Matteo Portoghese

Over the years, Basketball has turned itself into a global phenomenon. Is it time to take it that one step further?


In modern day sports, federations and authorities do not fear change. Although tradition is still regarded as important, rules and championships formulas are often put under review and adjusted. Reasons are often related to the TV networks’ needs and asks, or they simply want to shape a product, easier to be sold to a wider audience.

But there is always a fine line between flexibility and indifference to history. In the 21st Century, several sports have decided to abolish competitions whose story dated back to the 19th Century, simply because they were considered useless by coaches or too old to the International public. The British Home Championship in football, the Ashes in rugby league, or the FIRA Tournament in rugby union to name a few.

Sports authorities often tend to suppress things instead of adapting them. For example basketball in the past has been very active in changing and modernising tournaments to create a better product. A limited-contact sport played on a rectangular court, it was created by the Canadian physical educator, physician, chaplain, sports coach and innovator James Naismith, who wrote the original rule book and launched its first University program. Originally played with a soccer ball, basketball is currently ranked in the Top 10 List of the World’s Most Popular Sports and is played worldwide, though still struggling in Commonwealth countries.

European basketball ©Matteo Portoghese

Invented and developed in the US, the game expanded to Europe and other continents, with FIBA (International Basketball Federation) being formed in 1932 by eight founding nations: Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland. Things kept evolving and there has always been a gap between how the game was played in America and how it was played in other areas. This gap was was bigger than the one between European and South American football, rugby union and cricket in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the previous professional leagues developed a game whose style and gameplay grew somehow different than the FIBA one. Differentiation included not only gameplay rules (e.g.: Shot clock, game duration, referees’ attitude towards the traveling rule, etc.) but also the way club seasons were organized, and their schedule. Due to amateur and local games mostly depending on High School and College Sports, Northern American sports never appreciated promotion and relegation, while Europe and South America kept the heartland and local teams system, with regional linked to national leagues and teams transferred between multiple divisions based on their performance for the completed season. Rules of the game become unique and coherent in non-USA tournament, while college and professional leagues in the States kept their system closed to innovations from abroad. As they call World Series the series for their National title in professional Major League Baseball, they sometimes chose to call World Champions the NBA Finals winning team as well, regardless of the winner of the European Cup and the Campeonato Sudamericano de Clubes/ FIBA Americas. Championships in Europe kept P/R, and continental cup competitions looked like their football equivalent.

European basketball ©Matteo Portoghese

In addition to this, the similarities between basketball and football in Europe included teams being often linked to multi sports club (PBC CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C., Panathinaikos B.C., Olympiacos B.C. dominated European Champions Cup together with proper basketball club like the Italian and Yugoslav giants). A European campaign after a National title become routine for big guns like Olimpia Milano or Ignis Varese, while the basketball played on the other side of the Atlantic remained the most viewed and loved by fans all over the world. American players became used to ending their careers in Europe, with the likes of Bob McAdoo, Dominique Wilkins, George Gervin, Darryl Dawkins, Artis Gilmore, etc. all enjoying their basketball in Italy, Greece, etc.

European basketball ©Matteo Portoghese

But relationships and exchanges between the two sides of the Atlantic grew year after year, with a two-way connection made of coaches and players’ movement few sport can claim. This is the scenario that inspired FIBA, National and private authorities in building an NBA-looking basketball league in Europe. The aim was to maintain stability and push the big clubs from big metropolitan areas (Milan, Berlin. Madrid, Barcelona, Athens, Istanbul,, etc.): EuroLeague now operates under a league system. What have these teams become? A cross between a club and a franchise, I would say: they keep on playing in their local (national) championship but are guaranteed a place in a season-long continental championship: the regular season features a single group with a double round-robin, with he maximum number of games per team increased from 31 (old format) to 37. For instance, If you are Real Madrid or Barcelona you could have to add 37 European matches to a total of 32 Liga ACB games and playoff. The result is very similar to the NBA’s 82 games (41 each home and away) regular season.

Despite strategic plans and the sport’s ability to handle change, club and international basketball first-hand experienced how hard developing and flourishing a non P/R model in Europe can be. As a matter of fact, the 2015–17 FIBA–Euroleague controversy over the control of the premier European-wide professional competition, the threats of suspension of 14 national teams, together with the duplication of continental cups (qualification to the Basketball Champions League is based on sporting merits, famous teams like Lietuvos rytas, Košarkaški klub Partizan, Alba Berlin and Bayern Munich competes in the EuroCup, while FIBA Europe Cup is FIBA’s 2nd level competition) and trophies is creating confusions among fans regarding who plays who and why. Partizan currently competes in the Adriatic League (a private venture, founded in 2001), European basketball and the Serbian league. And of course, it goes without saying that P/R and franchise system do not work very well together (see The Rugby Football Union, who opened to the possibility of getting rid of promotion and relegation in the Premiership).

Basketball is a truly global sport trying to achieve the impossible. But suspension of disbelief could help: leaving aside all the above issues, it can be a great entertaining game. Fixtures like San Antonio v Golden State Warriors, or Fenerbahçe v Olympiacos here in Europe highlight this fact. It would be great if we could have the best teams playing each other for a real and meaningful World Club title.

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