FIBA

Okatch turns her trials into triumphs

WHEN Dorothy Okatch experienced some of the darkest moments in her life, the basketball court was the space where she found refuge and solace. Apart from getting peace of mind from the game,  the Botswana referee has become a prominent official on the continent and is achieving grand milestones.

Okatch, who comes from a basketball family, experienced life’s trials at an early age. She lost both parents at different stages of her youth. The loss of her father, drastically changed life for her and her family. Also learning about the family’s refugee status in their adopted country from her late mother exacerbated their struggle in Botswana.

“I did not know we were refugees until I got to junior secondary school. My dad started a job at the University of Botswana. For the first few years, we lived comfortably. We had a good place to stay. My dad was a lecturer, and I guess he made good money,” said Uganda-born Okatch, who spoke to The Big Tip Off via Zoom two weeks ago. “When my dad passed away, my mom had to take care of six kids, so things changed. We moved to a refugee camp. ‘I asked myself why we were moving to this place?’ At the time, it still did not click that we were refugees. It was when I got to high school that my mom explained the situation of our lives.”

Dorothy Okatch
Botswana referee Dorothy Okatch has overcome adversity in life. Pictures: The BTO

Following her mother’s explanation of the family’s refugee status, Okatch, who arrived in Botswana 1987, would later learn that not all in the Southern African country would be welcoming.

“At the time, it was not an issue for me. That’s until my school teacher began talking about refugees. Then the teacher asked if anyone in class was a refugee? I innocently lifted my hand, and most of my classmates laughed, and from that time, everyone treated me differently,” said 39-year-old Okatch. “Then everyone in the class started calling me a refugee. It sunk in that it sucks not being from here. It sucks how I am viewed differently from everyone else. I was talked about as someone who had fled to Botswana to stay alive.

“It changed my perspective of things. How I interacted with people, what I said and did. After that incident with the teacher, my experience was hell. I wished I had not raised my hand and felt the teacher had tricked me.”

Okatch, who presently works as head of an NGO in Botswana, would see her fortunes and that of her sister change, when they moved to a new school.

“My sister and I got a scholarship through a church in Canada to attend a private school (in Botswana). At that school, most of us were from other countries, and so I had a much better experience in that environment” said Okatch. Okatch has since then felt more integrated into the Botswana society, and now considers herself a patriot. 

Looking back at the loss of both parents, the situation seemed perilous for Okatch, especially when she had completed high school and transitioning to university. Luckily she would be a beneficiary of scholarship for refugees that enabled her to study outside of Botswana. 

“I lost my dad when I was seven-years-old and at 16 my mom passed away. So, here I was, a refugee in Botswana. I had just finished high school and awaiting my results. Things began to pile up and I asked myself what the hell I was gonna do?, said Okatch. “I could not get a job or do anything else because of my refugee status. Fortunately, I got a scholarship through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to go and study at the University of Namibia. ” 

Namibia presented a fresh start for Okatch, it was also where she immersed herself more and more into basketball. She served in the basketball structures at the University and it was where her journey into refereeing began.

“Given what I was dealing with, I almost got a nervous breakdown and when things were crazy, I would find myself at the basketball court. I also served on the basketball executive committee at the university. My life revolved around basketball. Anyone could tell you ‘Dorothy lives and eats basketball’. If you were looking for me, the basketball court is where you would find me,” said Okatch, who holds a Masters degree in Social Work.

She described how the road to officiating began.

“My journey into refereeing started in 2002 when I was in my second year. Some friends and I went to a place called UN Plaza, where a high school game was being played. It was heart-breaking to see some of the kids not playing but refereeing games. I saw it as unfair to them as they did not know how to be unbiased in games. I also doubt they were familiar with the rules of the game,” said the University of Namibia alumni. “My friends and I decided to step in, and I loved it so much that I came every weekend. I just enjoyed giving those kids a fair game.”

 

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Okatch’s quality of being impartial had impressed Namibian basketball official, Charles Nyambe, leading to her getting an invite for a referee’s training course and officiating in her first major game.

“Namibian official’s chairperson invited me to a referees clinic. Under his watch, I would go on to referee my first men’s game: Rebels versus Tomahawks, something that terrified me. This is the biggest game in Namibia. Charles was there to remind me I was a fair referee and to not be afraid of making the right call,” said Okatch. “That is where the love and passion for refereeing began for me. Namibia gave me my first whistle. That country groomed me as a referee.”

Having grown in her role as a referee, Okatch was ready to take another leap, that of becoming an international referee. However, achieving that goal would be complicated. On her first attempt whilst in Namibia, Okatch faced issues not only with her not being a Namibian citizen but also she learnt that she was pregnant.

“In 2010, Charles nominated me to attend a zonal (Southern Africa) referees clinic. I was supposed to go as a Namibian referee, although I was not a citizen. It was a controversial issue, as you can imagine,” said Okatch. “I had to pay my costs, and I was okay with that. As I prepared myself and tried to get fit, I realised I was out of breath. It was then that I discovered I was pregnant and so I could not go that year.”

Dorothy Okatch
Dorothy Okatch dreams of officiating at major FIBA tournaments.

In 2014, Okatch, who had since returned to Botswana two years earlier, attended another zonal referees clinic in Zimbabwe. She again had to pay out of her own pocket as the Botswana federation could not afford to send her.

“The Botswana association told me they did not have money to pay for the trip to Zimbabwe. I told them I could pay for myself, and so I went to Zimbabwe for the zonal licensing, and I aced it,” said Okatch, who would later go on to become Botswana’s first internationally recognised referee. “Eight months later, there was a call for referees with zonal licences to upgrade to the international level. Fortunately, I was able to go to Madagascar for the licencing, and in 2015 I got it. I was the first referee in Botswana to get an international license.”

She added: “It was one of the best feelings I have ever had since my involvement in basketball. I used to check online daily to see if my name was on the list, and the day my name appeared, I screamed and cried. Finally, Botswana had an international referee.”

Okatch, who also holds a 3-on-3 refereeing licence has officiated at some top international tournaments. Her career highlights include refereeing at: the 2019 Women’s AfroBasket, the Basketball Africa League (BAL) and the Special Olympics World Games (Abu Dhabi in 2019).

“My highlight tournament was getting to referee the final in my first AfroBasket. Also, officiating both the women’s and men’s 3X3 finals tournament in Uganda. The names of the officials for finals had not been released, and when I got called to do the women’s final, I was chuffed with myself. It was an indication of how good I was at my job. I then got to referee the men’s final, which again boosted my confidence and trust in myself,” said Okatch. ” Also with the Special Olympics World Games, I had never officiated on the global stage. That was really special for me because it reminded me why I was a referee. It reminded me the importance of compassion and fairness when you referee. These athletes want to compete and enjoy their sport and being able to provide that platform made me happy.”

Okatch now looks forward to officiating at the Commonwealth Games in July in Birmingham, England. She also aspires to referee at a FIBA junior or senior World Cup.

“I am excited and look forward to officiate at the 3X3 tournament because it’s yet another higher level of competition. I would love to officiate a FIBA world championship tournament, whether the junior or senior competition,” concluded Okatch.

Okatch has a lot to look forward to as a referee. The sacrifices she has made to grow in the sport she loves have paid off and in the process, she has changed the trajectory of her life. It may not always be smooth sailing but she has learnt how to turn trials into triumphs.

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Moseya has his sights set on World Cup

WHEN Arnold Moseya, in his youth, decided to swap bouncing a basketball for the high-pressure job of being a referee, it was the perfect choice as the doors of the world would later open and lead to him officiating on some of the biggest stages.

Moseya, who began officiating in 2004, reflected on how a turn of events during a high school tournament in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, fortuitously led to him picking up the whistle.

“Interesting story. During my time in high school, I was not a great player, although I made it to the first team. Anyway, there was a tournament where each team had to come with a referee. My high school didn’t bring one. So, I had to jump in, and that’s where my journey began,” said Moseya, who attended Carter High School in Pietermaritzburg.

“Surprisingly, I also refereed in the final of that tournament. From there, my interest grew, and when I started varsity, I continued officiating games.”

Second Picture
Arnold Moseya officiating at the Elite 16 Division East tournament in Johannesburg. Pictures: The BTO

Since those early days, Moseya, who received his FIBA accreditation in 2011, has grown in stature. While officiating games in the South African circuit, he lauded the role played by well known South African basketball officials like Charles Saunders and Charles Forster for moulding and setting him on his present trajectory.

“South Africa had some top officials back in the day. I think we had about four internationally recognised referees. So, there was always leadership at that level. The likes of Charles Saunders and Charles Forster helped guide me to where I am now,” said Moseya.

The 34-year-old has travelled the world and officiated at major FIBA competitions. While it may look exciting from the outside, he highlighted certain challenges that he has had to navigate.

“The difficult part is travelling for competitions. This summer there have been a lot of competitions. The Basketball Africa League (BAL), World Cup qualifiers, the youth World Cup and right now, the BAL qualifiers are taking place,” said Moseya, who also works for alcohol beverage company Distel.

“It’s hard trying to balance that out with family and a full-time job. You have to get time off from work and discuss who takes my child to school because you will be away for two weeks. Between 2019 and now, I have been away for close to 90 days. So, it can be a tough schedule.”

Yes, the job does come with some personal sacrifices, but there are also perks and enriching experiences. While on international assignments, Moseya has struck up new friendships and learnt about different cultures. And luckily most of his travel expenses are covered by tournament organisers.

“There are things I enjoy about the job. You get to travel for free. Imagine travelling the whole world and not paying a cent. I have visited many countries and experienced different cultures. It is something I have come to appreciate and respect,” said Moseya. “I have made many friends from all over the world. That has been an absolute joy for me. The people you meet and the places you get to visit. It’s hard to quantify something like that.”

Reflecting on some of the tournaments he has officiated in, Moseya expressed gratitude for the opportunity to call games on the continental and world stage. While he has some big competitions under his belt, there are two other major tournaments that he has sights set on.

“I have had the privilege and honour of refereeing the Paralympics in Rio and Wheelchair World Cup in Germany. I recently officiated at the Under Nineteen World Cup in Latvia. On the continent (Africa), I officiated at the BAL tournament (Rwanda) and AfroBasket,” said Moseya, an alumnus of the Durban University of Technology.

“It’s been an amazing journey so far, one which I do not have the words to describe. There are other tournaments that I would like to be a part of in the future: the FIBA World Cup and Olympic Games. That would be awesome.”

 

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When he is not ensuring that players are on their best behaviour on the court, Moseya engages in basketball literature and views footage from previous games as a way of improving as an official.

“It requires a lot of work. You have to read the rulebook and spend hours watching games. You guys probably watch games for the slam dunks and three-point shooting. I watch games from a technical viewpoint,” said Moseya. “I have to check if the player is dribbling the right way, has a player screened correctly, and when a team calls a certain play, how will it impact the game? So it’s putting in hours of viewing footage and educating myself.”

There is also a fitness aspect that Moseya addressed. He pointed out match officials like players have to maintain their fitness levels to keep up with the play on the court.

“You have to take of your body. I go to the gym almost every day. You have to look like an athlete and think like one as well. A referee is an athlete. For example, when a player runs a fast break, guess what? You have to keep up. So it’s important to stay in shape,” said Moseya.

Third Pic
Arnold Moseya at the regional qualifiers.

Also part and parcel of the job is managing difficult players during games, something Moseya is well versed. He points out that big-name individuals can be tricky to manage because of the status they enjoy in the game.

“There are a lot of difficult players. Every team has one. The star players can be difficult because they are famous and everyone has come to watch them. When they feel the referee has made the incorrect decision, it can be a tricky situation,” said Moseya. “It would be unfair to point out a specific player. If you do your job well as a referee, they will respect you.”

In his decade as an official, Moseya feels the job has helped to develop him into a well-rounded individual.

“I think refereeing has taught me a lot of things. It has taught me how to be calm, relaxed and analyse situations. Analysis especially! Officiating has taught me how to weigh situations better. Because of that, I am a better person,” concluded Moseya.

*This interview was conducted during the Elite 16 Division East qualifiers held in Johannesburg in December.

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