This appears in the Tuesday, August 6, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.
Meet Snehal Bendke, India’s first woman FIBA referee
by rick olivares
Among the current pool of referees officiating in the 2013 FIBA Asia championships, Snehal Bendke, stands out. She is the lone woman referee in this pool for the Manila tournament.
FIBA officials are quick to express dismay over the word ‘woman’. “The term FIBA Referee is beyond gender. It does not differentiate between male and female referees. If a referee is good enough to be called a FIBA Referee, then he or she is capable to officiate any game be it for men or women,” explained FIBA Asia Seceretary General Hagop Kajirian.
The 26-year old Bendke had just worked the Qatar-Hong Kong match. At one point during the game, Qatari center Seleem Abdulla questioned Bendke about a call. But the Indian referee was resolute in his decision. Abdulla shrugged then ran back on back on defense.
“I’ve never had any problems refereeing,” confided Bendke after that match. “I never thought that I am a woman officiating a man’s game. Not at all. Rules are rules. The rules are the same whether it’s the men’s or women’s game. There’s a lot of physicality but I do not get intimidated.”
While studying at the DRK University College of Commerce in Kolhapur, India, one of the coaches requested Bendke to watch a basketball game and to find out if she would like to play the game. She was immediately hooked. “Yes, I was,” she gushed. “In India cricket is the national sport. But I fell in love with basketball. Michael Jordan was and is my idol.”
Jordan’s Nike commercial, ‘Failure’ where the greatest of all time talks about rising above one’s shortcomings to succeed remains a strong and indelible message in her. “It is like a mantra to me,” she emphatically said.
Bendke then suited up for the varsity team and later the national team.
After she was done playing, she found out that there were no women referees in India. “I saw the WNBA and the NBA that there were woman referees. So I ask why not? My interest increased day by day. I took the exam and I passed. I started officiating in December 2006. One year I was officiating the national championships in India then I was asked to officiate in the World Women’s Basketball Championship and the Euroleague.
She was able to check one item off her bucket list when she officiated the women’s semifinals in the 2012 London Olympics. “That was a dream come true. Hopefully, it is not the last.”
Today after Bendke, there are six women referees in India and many more taking it up as well. “Basketball is growing in India. You have the NBA now and of course, FIBA, hosting tournaments, clinics, and events there.”
When Bendke isn’t officiating, she runs the family business back home where there are various factories that produce different kinds of products. When she done with her day job, she works out to keep in shape. “It is not joke officiating. You have to run ahead of the ball and make sure you are always near the play. I cannot just eat anything and not work out. I have to keep in shape.”
“When I was playing, I wanted to play for my country in the Olympics. I didn’t get to do that but I did get to officiate in one. So it is not too bad. When there are obstacles, I think of Michael Jordan and his failing many times over before he succeeds. Hopefully, I will succeed in everything I want to do as well.”
Here's the Michael Jordan commercial 'Failure'