For Russian referee Elena Chernova, earning her stripes as the first ever female Russian FIBA Europe official is just another phase in what has been a remarkable basketball journey.
“Officiating for me is a new step, something new in my favourite sport – basketball,” Chernova told fibaeurope.com.
Currently the manager of Russia’s national youth teams, Chernova has pretty much done it all when it comes to her much loved pastime.
Player, coach, referee, announcer – all of those job descriptions can be found on Chernova’s resume. In between, she managed to find the time to complete her PHD in education.
But it all started as a young girl growing up in Moscow.
“I began to play basketball at the age of eight. Why? The answer is very simple - I was the tallest pupil among my classmates,” she said.
The 185 cm Chernova was spotted by a talent scout for the Trinta basketball school in Moscow, one of the most respected in the former Soviet Union. Under the direction of Russian Basketball Federation Vice-President Valentina Bashkirova, she won four Soviet championships with Trinta.
Chernova made the squad for the Soviet U16 team, but in a country with such a huge pool of players to choose from, earning selection to the final 12 was extremely difficult, as was making the transition to the senior ranks.
“At the time there were only two teams in Moscow, CSKA and Dynamo. There was a lot of competition and it was very difficult to play for either of those teams. I didn’t really want to leave Moscow so I joined BC Zenit in the high league, but the team folded with financial troubles and I stopped my playing career.”
With basketball no longer a career choice, Chernova opted for university. Despite the rigours of working towards a PHD, student life was heavily subsidised with basketball. She coached the university side and volunteered as an announcer with CSKA Moscow (a job which she still has to this day).
After graduating, Chernova turned her attention to basketball once again, joining the Russian Basketball Federation’s International Department. Officiating also became a more serious activity and in June 2005 she qualified as a FIBA referee, the first Russian women to earn that distinction.
“It was a big honour for me to be the first woman from Russia to be a referee and I hope this will open the door to others,” said Chernova. “I feel like a pioneer, but also there is a big responsibility. At every single game, my actions, my decisions on the court reflect the image of my country.”
Chernova cut her teeth at the international level at the 2005 Women’s World League on home soil in Samara. She has since called games in the EuroCup Women and EuroLeague Women and will be one of three female referees at the EuroLeague Women All-Star Game.
“The news of the nomination reached me when I was on a trip. I felt pretty emotional when I found out and thankful of the trust shown in me by FIBA Europe,” Chernova said.
As somebody with a vast amount of basketball experience, Chernova certainly has her own ideas as to what can be done to draw attention to the women’s game.
“Physiologically men and women are different. Women don’t have the speed, jumping ability or power that you see in the men’s game. But we shouldn’t forget about the aesthetic side of women’s basketball, the beauty, grace and the emotions of the players. We should also focus on the fact that each basketball player is a person with a personality.”
One of the goals for the All-Star Game and Year Of Women’s Basketball is to highlight the contribution of women to all facets of the game including refereeing, and according to Chernova, it’s the perfect time for such an event.
“Women’s basketball is Europe is very popular right now. It is loved, appreciated, known and it (the All-Star game) will be a really great festival of women’s basketball.”