Basketball referee Benjamin Barth: Controversy over beard in Euroleague basketball

sports show: You’ve made a strange dispute with the head of the Euroleague referee in public. It started at the beginning of the current 2021/22 season where Richard Stokes She wrote to me asking if you would shave. What were you thinking?

Benjamin Bart: I took it for a joke at first. But he meant it very seriously – and then I said, ‘No, I do not want that.’ It’s my personality, I’ve had a beard for a long time, and so far no one has cared about it.

With this decision, you are ultimately putting your career in the most important European competition at stake.

Bart: In several phone calls I have Richard Stokes said afterwards quite clearly that I would not get more games if I did not shave. His reasoning was that head coaches and sports directors reportedly dislike when referees have beards. Since I was also the only referee in the league with a beard, I wanted to be the center of attention, especially when making bad decisions. It does not matter if I have a beard, are bald or look different – we are always at the center of bad decisions.

In the light of your experience, it is certainly no coincidence that you are in fact the only bearded referee in the Euroleague.

Other judges are also affected

Bart: I later found out that other judges were also told to shave. Colleagues shaved and then, unlike me, got more games. But there are also colleagues who have judges as their main job and are therefore more dependent. We German referees do not work most full time, but have basketball as a very well paid hobby.

Have you talked to the colleagues concerned?

Bart: Yes, and everyone has given me their reasons for not being able to resist it. I understand that too. And so I said, ‘Then I must get up and do something if someone else can not.

You have taken legal action, including claiming compensation for the Euroleague appearances that you had been promised.

Bart: The point was, I was putting pressure on the Euroleague to react at all, because they had not done that before. In the end, she sent a letter last week in which she made it clear that she should not have asked me this question (after the shave, editor’s note) and that my beard is no reason, no more for me to give games.

At our request, the Euroleague also issued a statement today acknowledging a mistake and announcing that they would no longer apply unreasonable standards in the future.

“I reached my goal”

Bart: So I’ve reached my goal, maybe it’s helping my colleagues and the judges’ association. I have also decided not to take further legal action. I will not make any financial demands and will pay the legal costs myself. I did not do it for the money, basketball is a passion, my income is somewhere else.

Chief Justice Stokes has apologized to you and offered you an interview. Do you want to meet him?

Bart: I accepted the apology. But there was no longer any reason for me to have a face-to-face interview. To me, all the things that had to be said have been said. He made it very clear what his point of view was and followed it up with action by simply not using me again. For me, it’s done.

However, you have now become public. Why this step?

Bart: For there is obviously a problem in the organization of the Euroleague. It’s 2022, it’s just no longer possible to discriminate against people because of their appearance. To me, it’s just the beard. But maybe there are other areas where something similar is happening. Maybe it encourages others to get up now or find someone to do it for them.

“Since 06:00 my phone has not stopped ringing”

What reactions have you had so far since the story broke?

Bart: My phone has not stopped ringing since at. To begin with, feedback came from Germany, now from all over Europe. They are all positive. I am grateful to do this. I think that was the right move given the feedback.

According to the Euroleague statement, at least it seems conceivable that you will continue to be used there. Would you be interested?

Bart: If I were invited to the preparatory course, which I am not currently pursuing, I would most likely say no. I do not think the organization is capable of changing so quickly. And then there are only two options: Either you touch me with children’s gloves. I do not want that, I want to be treated like everyone else. Or you choose other ways. And that’s why I’m not very interested at the moment. I think I have fulfilled my mission: to stand up here, point out a problem and maybe make life easier for my colleagues in the future.

The interview was conducted by Volker Schulte

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