Maka Kupatadze, 43, Tbilisi

„I dreamt of becoming a policewoman in my childhood. I wanted to be a policewoman very much. I still dream about that. My family has never opposed my decisions. When I was little my father used to laugh whenever I said that I wanted to become a policewoman. My grandma also used to laugh a lot about that. I still regret that I did not become a policewoman and did not follow my dream. I like the police uniform very much. I used to imagine myself dressed in the police uniform. I thought I would look cool in it. However, matching a career of a policewoman with that of a basketball referee would be a bit difficult. I cannot give up this profession, so my dream has not come true.

I was 13-14 years old when I started playing basketball. I lived in Chiatura and my sports teacher took me to the girls’ basketball section because of my height. Basketball has become part of my life since that period. Then I came to Tbilisi to study at the Institute of Physical Culture but I was moved to the State University because they had a better team there.

In the 90s, in that period of hardship, Kuatisi had a very good girls’ team. The team had good conditions because it had a sponsor – the Kutaisi airport. I think it was the first girls’ basketball team, which had relatively good salaries and conditions. The name of the team was Kutaisi Meoba. Our team participated in the Ronchetti Cup competition. We plaid in a qualifying tournament for two years successively. We took part in the European championship in Belgium in 1995 and in Austria in 1997 on behalf of the Georgian national team. However, women’s basketball has experienced a gradual setback in Georgia since 1998. There were no teams or sponsors. In fact, nothing has happened in women’s basketball since that period. There was no place for me to play.

What was I supposed to do? I had plaid basketball for so many years and loved this sphere. One day Kekelidze, the principal of the children’s school, offered me to officiate during children’s games “it is very easy to officiate children’s games, you will have some income, you do not do anything anyway”. I thought that I would give it a try until something better came along. Ever since that period I have been a referee.

Initially, I officiated boys’ basketball games, after one year I was moved to adults. I officiated basketball games of male players again. I made fast progress. In one year I was moved to a big basketball, which prompted big ambitions in me. I expanded the scope of my activities by becoming an international referee in 2006. Every year FIBA sends a request to national federations to present international referee candidates. Then you pass tests – the English language test, basketball rules and fitness test. After that you service the game, while they observe you and decide whether to give you a license of not. Fortunately I passed all the tests and next year they put me on the list of potential referees. This is a training group. I had to go to its annual meetings. I studied for 4 years. Of course at the same time I officiated basketball games.

I can say that since 2008 my career as a referee has kept moving forward. The number of games I officiate increases from year to year.

I have been three times at EuroBasket Women. I even officiated a third place game during one of the competitions. I have officiated many semi-final and final games of girls and boys in different age groups. Officiating the EuroBasket final is considered to be the biggest achievement. Although I have not serviced the final game yet, 2 years ago I was a referee in the final of EuroLeague Women, which made me rather proud. So I travel every week, fly to other countries and then arrive back. I can do all that as I am healthy. I exercise every morning because I need to be physically fit. Otherwise my body would not be able to withstand such pressure. I go to a fitness class. If there is a good weather I ride my bike. This is my life. No matter how tired I am, I service every game with the same enthusiasm.

By the way, I am the first woman referee in the history of the Georgian basketball. Initially when you start doing something new, there is always someone who confronts you. I know that many people were against that, especially coaches. They would not dare go against male referees that actively but I was a girl and they had a grudge against me. I found out later that the person who assigned referees to games had had big problems with that. Everyone told him not to appoint Maka to their game. I am rather grateful to this person that he always got his own way and never backed off. Vazha Kvaratskhelia was the only person who did not tell him not to appoint Maka.

I had problems with players as well. They used to argue about everything during the game. They used to say: „why are you blowing a whistle, there was no offence…“ and similar things. There were also cases when they automatically looked at me to argue when other referee blew a whistle. This happened for the first two years. However, I have not had any problems since that period. Small arguments occur now and then but this happens because players have an argument with a referee not because I am a female referee. I have been a referee for 16 years, of which 10 years – an international referee. Actually everyone knows me already. I have known some of them since their childhood. Some players gave up playing basketball, others became coaches. If you know a person for so long eventually you will like her/him, even if you did not like her/him initially.

I cannot say that I have not made any progress because I am a woman, or some people have intentionally hampered my career growth. But I think this should be partly attributed to my efforts because I have worked on my development very hard. I am never exacerbated because of a game. Sometimes a player does not like the way in which I resolve an argument and says something bad to me but I never hold a grudge against him, I do the same in life. You have to be a decent human being first and foremost. If you fail as a human being, as a referee you will be no different from an executioner. Actually everyone knows me in the sphere. Nobody can tell me that I harmed anyone or someone lost a game because of me. Of course I am a human being, I am not a robot or a computer, so I may make mistakes. I realize my mistake and tell a player right away that I am sorry. You should acknowledge your mistake. I feel very happy when after I blow a whistle they look in my direction, see me and realize that there is nothing to argue about, or when some other referee blows a whistle they ask me whether there was an offense or not.

For some reason people think that officiating a game is just about blowing a whistle. The referee should manage the game. If you manage a game nobody will argue with you because of a mistake. When your attitude is to attend a game, blow a whistle and then go home, you make a mess and irritate a player. Problems emerge when some player is tired or a team is losing a game and you irritate them further. It is rather difficult to manage the game when you lose control over it.

I remember everything I did for the first time in my life, so I will never forget my first game as a referee. The game was in the Vera Park. I remember they argued with me as they did for the following two years. After the game I went to the locker room and cried. When I came home I analyzed the situation and told to myself: „Not a big deal, you will cry today, maybe tomorrow, but try not to cry any more. Try to communicate with people so that you do not have a reason to cry“. How many times will you cry?! You will not cry for your whole life, will you? After all you may give up if you fail to succeed in the field.

Contrary to that, I felt extremely proud when I officiated the final of the championship of Georgia for the first time. I could not sleep for the whole night before the game. My heart was pounding hard as I imagined scenes of officiating the game for the whole night. Finally I fell asleep. I was extremely nervous before the game. However, everything went very well, there were not problems. I had been looking forward to the final like players for the whole year. You feel so pleased when you finish a busy year with officiating the final game!

A bad accident occurred during one game I was assigned to as a referee. The Sukhumi team plaid with the team of the Ministry of Interior in semi-final. One of the players was rather aggressive because his team was losing the game. For some unknown reason he became aggressive towards me. He started arguing with me, saying I’d better officiate the game normally. Of course I tried to calm him down. In response he abused me verbally. I answered that he would not be able to do anything to me. You may use a foul language in your heart but I would never tell those words to anyone aloud. I have never abused anyone throughout my career and I do not have such right. After he abused me verbally I expelled him and approached the table to indicate the player I expelled. At this time he came to me and hit me in the face with his head. I do not know the reason he became so aggressive. As soon as I got home from hospital with concussion of the brain I watched the game to see what I had done. Maybe I even deserved that?! In fact he had a grudge against my male colleague but he did not dare tell him anything. It is not ruled out that he acted like that because I am a woman.

There was a game about two weeks ago in Kutaisi. The situation and the game was wonderful. The hall is always full in Kutaisi. It is nice when fans encourage and support the players but they always feel aggressive towards me. As they have not been able to scare me and make me blow a whistle as they wish, they have become rather aggressive. They threw some items to the court, used foul language. Eventually the game was suspended. When I came out I found my car tires punctured. They are afraid of men because they will sort things out like males do. They still feel inherently that they can discriminate a person because she is a female.

They think they can get away with bad behavior with women more easily compared to men.

Being a referee does not mean you can relax and do nothing. You have to work to become a good referee. Here they think „it is easy to be a referee, you can just come to a game and blow a whistle“. You need physical training, psychological training. Imagine the number of teams and the number of players in the teams. All of them have a different temper. You have to find a right approach and find out their attitude. I often tell my colleagues that we should know players better than ourselves. We should be aware of their bad and good behavior and so on.
All people involved in basketball dream first about EuroBasket then about world championship and of course about the Olympiad. I have been a referee at the EuroBasket for three times. Every summer I am invited to serve as a referee at the European Championship for national teams in different age groups. I always have two or three tournaments. As for the Olympiad, it is really my dream”.