Pinoy referee picked for Olympics

Photo via

Photo via

By Joaquin Henson/The Philippine Star – Ferdinand (Bong) Pascual of Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, will become only the second Filipino basketball referee ever to work in the Olympics after Medardo Felipe in 1984 and said the other day the honor isn’t his but the country’s.

Pascual, 45, was recently chosen to join the pool of 30 referees for Rio by FIBA. Three other Asians from Oman, China and South Korea are in the elite group. Pascual has been a FIBA-licensed referee since 2002 with the 2014 World Cup in Spain and the 2015 World U19 Championships in Greece his biggest assignments.

“I worked in a pre-Olympic tournament in Beijing in 2008 but never in the Olympics,” said Pascual, a PBA referee from 2006 to 2012. “I’m proud to represent the Philippines. Right now, there are 10 Filipino referees who are FIBA licensed and I’m working with the SBP to prepare others for major assignments. Of course, there’s pressure to perform but if you’re confident in your ability and as you gain experience, it becomes second nature.”

Pascual said he’s learned to overcome being star-struck on the court. At the 2014 World Cup, he was the only Asian assigned beyond the preliminaries, working Lithuania’s 76-71 win over New Zealand in the round of 16 and the US’ 119-76 romp over Slovenia in the quarterfinals. From a pool of 38, only 20 were chosen to officiate in the playoff stage and Pascual was the lone Asian.

“During the US game, I called an offensive foul on James Harden,” he recalled. “Before that, I told him to stop initiating contact and next time he does, I’ll call it. He didn’t like my call and looked me in the eye. I think that’s how they do it in the NBA. But that’s okay. That’s basketball. Players do their job and we do ours. After the game, it was no hard feelings. When I worked the game between Gilas and the NBA All-Stars in 2011, I was amazed at the talent on the floor, especially with Kobe Bryant. I didn’t let it affect my work.” Pascual added, chuckling, “besides, I’m a LeBron James fan.”

Pascual said before deciding to become a full-time referee, he worked as a nursing aide and considered a career in dentistry. He earned a commerce degree at the University of Baguio and made a living out of basketball to provide for his wife Liberty, a registered nurse, and their three children. Today, his oldest Fermina, 25, is employed in a shipping company, his son Pao, 23, is redshirting this season with the Emilio Aguinaldo varsity to recover from an ACL injury and another son Francis, 22, is graduating from the same school.

“At the 2014 World Cup, some Filipinos came up to me after games,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be recognized by your countrymen. When I do games in Qatar or Bahrain or the Emirates, I enjoy interacting with our OFWs. But in our own country, we’re hardly noticed. When players come home from a tournament, there’s a lot of media attention. When referees come home, it’s sad that nobody seems to care.”

To get ready for Rio, Pascual said FIBA has provided a training manual for a 14-week grind. FIBA sent Pascual and the other Olympic referees a polar watch to strap on the wrist and a polar heartrate device to tape on the chest to monitor their training. The polar systems can track movements through a GPS app so it’s easy to find out if a referee is playing hooky. A polar heartrate device will also detect if a player is nervous during a game.

“FIBA wants to be sure you’re following the training program,” he said. “It’s mostly jogging and running on the treadmill in the gym. I don’t do weights because it builds muscle and I want to be light so I can be quick on the floor. I jog at least six kilometers every other day for about 45 to 50 minutes. My weight has gone down from 82 kilos to 78 so I’m on track with my conditioning. I also keep in shape working games like the recent Filoil Flying V league and the NCAA whose season just started.”

Pascual said he’ll leave for Rio on July 27. “FIBA wants us to report early for a one-week camp before the start of basketball,” he said. “We’ll go over videos, discuss game situations and work on game management and teamwork.” The camp will be supervised by FIBA head of referees Carl Jungebrand of Finland and consultant Lubomir Kotleba of Slovakia.

“This group of referees has been carefully selected and brings the highest standards of officiating to be expected for basketball’s biggest competitions,” said Jungebrand. “We look forward to counting on them to bring the high standards of officiating to the biggest tournaments in the world.”

Pascual will be one of 19 referees making their Olympic debut in Rio. The pool of 30 is broken down into 24 men and six women from 25 countries with an average age of 40.6. During the competitions, each game will be analyzed by referees’ supervisors using selected video footage and sharing feedback.

Pascual said a FIBA referee’s license is renewed every four years. He’s due next year. “To get renewed, every referee must pass a fitness test and do 86 laps of 20 meters each in a total of 10 minutes,” he said.

At the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament here on July 5-10, FIBA assigned seven neutral referees to work a total of nine games, including the final. They are Australia’s Michael Allen, 46, Italy’s Luigi Lamonica, 50, Slovenia’s Sasa Pukl, 45, Algeria’s Sofiane Si Youcef, 34, Spain’s Miguel Perez, 47, Puerto Rico’s Jose Anibal Carrion, 43 and Greece’s Elias Koromilas, 42. The most experienced referees are Lamonica and Pukl with a combined 41 years of service.

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