Washington, July 1 : An Australian study of elite basketball referees suggests that the referees work just as hard as players do, but the chances that some will "cheat" increase as the age catches up with them.
"In basketball it is a small enclosed court and the general feeling was that referees stand around a lot. But it turns out they are doing just as much work as the players," ABC Online quoted Dr. Anthony Leicht, of the Institute of Sport and Exercise Science at James Cook University in Townsville, as saying.
The researcher monitored heart rates of seven elite-level basketball referees during a pre-Olympics tournament in the lead-up to the 2004 Athens Games, and found that the referees worked at an average heart rate of 150 beats per minute (plus or minus 18bpm) for each quarter of the match.
He said that it was the equivalent of working at 79 per cent (plus or minus 9 per cent) of the referees' maximum heart rate capacity for the duration of the game.
He pointed out that the referees on average ran between five and seven kilometres per game.
Surprisingly, Leicht also said that basketball referees worked as hard as football referees, even though there were differences in the field/court size and game length.
He said that where a football match consisted of two 45-minute halves, an international basketball game was four 10-minute quarters.
He, however, added that the quarters could last for almost double the time because the clock was constantly stopped during the game.
"So they are working for close to the same time as (football referees) but at much higher rates," Leicht says.
Based on his findings, Leicht came to the conclusion that specific attention should be paid to pre-season fitness of referees and the maintenance of that fitness.
According to him, the minimum fitness level required by elite referees, which is based on aerobic capacity, is "arbitrarily appointed without scientific basis".
Leicht also stressed the importance of considering other important fitness criteria such as anaerobic capacity, speed and agility.
The researcher also highlighted the fact that 60 per cent of American Football umpiring officials had risk factors associated with heart disease.
"Given the (basketball) referees are working at 75-80 per cent of their maximum heart rate for 90 minutes there are potential health risks. Also the fitter the referees are the less stress they will be under and it is giving them more capacity to make better decisions," he said.
Leicht also revealed that the results raised issues about older referees' ability to keep up with the game, saying that many older referees had admitted to "cheating" to keep up with the game by making decisions based on experience.
"If they see a particular play unfolding and they've seen it thousands of times before they know what's going on in that play," he said.
They use that experience to make their decisions despite not actually seeing the infringement, said Leicht.
The study has been reported in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport