Malta basketball referee Bernard Vassallo has announced the end of his international career after 25 years of service.
In a facebook post on his social media, Vassallo said that after taking charge of 496 official international games, the time has come for him to call it a day as his licence will not be renewed after the end of the season after he reached the 50-years threshold.
Vassallo said that his farewell is tinge by the disappointment of missing out on the 500-games mark after his plans of officiating in a international tournament were scuppered as he was forced into COVID-19 quarantine.
In fact, Vassallo was due to be part of the officiating team in the FIBA Championships of the Small States in Ireland but could not travel and was handed another invitation to officiate in another international tournament in Macedonia but was not given permission to travel by the Maltese Health Authorites.
“The Dinosaur Referee says ‘lights out’ and time to say goodbye to the international whistle,” Vassallo wrote.
“I was greatly awaiting this week as this should have been my final goodbye from FIBA refereeing and was hoping to arrive to achieving the 500 official international games mark in this long journey.
“But fate wanted otherwise and my projected last championship was not to be due to imposed COVID19 quarantine on the eve of departure.
“So, the dinosaur ref calls it a day and did not have the joy to savour the real emotion of a very last game.
“Yet, let us think positive. This has been a wonderful experience.
“25 years of visiting lots of beautiful places and loads of wonderful basketball arenas. But above all, meeting excellent persons and dedicated people.
“The opportunity to work with great colleagues, players and coaches, both on and off the basketball court.
“Before 1996, I only had a sister, now I have hundreds of brothers and sisters around Europe and the world. We are drawn together by a passion those outside refereeing can never understand!!
These 25 years have contributed to my development as a person.
“Yes, I have had times in my career when I have wondered why I dedicated so much time to refereeing when there is so much criticism and verbal abuse and many challenges in the journey.
“Few know but all this might even not have been, as back in 1992 and a short while after being forced to stop playing due to injury, the local referee association had opposed the then MBA president’s idea Joey Farrugia to introduce me as a referee and even threatened a ‘strike’ but thankfully the local federation backed me up.
“Starting as quite a shy and timid person, my eventual international game experiences pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, live my loved motto “fear no one, respect everyone’ and to expose confidence no matter what the feeling in the stomach was, especially in the early days.
“These 25 years have been much more than the 496 FIBA games refereed and certain main highlights (I never, being from tiny, low ranked Malta, dreamt of) such as two Eurobasket EBW, a Euroleague ELW Final 8, bronze medal games in European u18 and u20 Division As, the gold medal game in the Commonwealth Games and others just to name some.
“It is more about what I feel I have become along the way and the pride I have in doing so.
“Yes, it has been also loads of hard work, sweat, persistence, determination and even failures and tears, but I stand tall and proud today knowing that certain choices and my continual ‘thirst for learning’ have paid off.
“And the ‘small’ referee from ‘tiny, unranked’, and at times not-fully respected, Malta managed to somewhat convince others that even a ‘small-country’ referee may beat the stigma, be trusted, can go up the ranks and achieve certain success, even in some top events.
“After being a FIBA referee for 25 years it is not just a hobby, it is a lifestyle!
“This is a beautiful game and it has been a beautiful career.”
Vassallo ended his statement by showing his gratitude to all the persons that supported him throughout the years.
“I thank each person, within FIBA and local federation Malta Basketball Association and education, who offered me honest support, advice, mentoring and backing in all these years.
“A big thanks and real sincere appreciation to my true close friends who helped me along the way.
“A big gratitude goes to my wife Michelle Vassallo Pulis and son Matthias Vassallo Pulis, who withstood my absences from home and without whose support and time sacrifice much of this would not be possible, as well as my immediate family, especially my parents and in-laws, for added essential assistance and guidance.
“And, above all, thanks always be to GOD for the opportunities and His work in our lives.”