A FIBA European Under-18 Championship match in Niš, Serbia, ended in controversy on Saturday when members of the Poland and Turkey national junior teams refused to play in the last five minutes of their game in protest at the playing conditions.
Heavy rains led to extreme humidity in an already sweltering gym at Mika Antic Elementary School, with little to no air conditioning. This created a dangerous environment that resulted in injuries to several contestants, leading to the players deciding not to compete seriously in the final minutes of the competition.
Early in the third quarter, Turkey defender Yagiz Aksu slipped and suffered a groin injury as he casually brought the ball down the field. As a result, he collapsed in pain, missing the rest of the game and knocking him out of his team’s next game on Sunday.
Five minutes from time, Poland power forward Jakub Szumert lost his balance while chasing a loose ball on the wet pitch, landing heavily on his chest and rolling over several times in pain. On the way to his team’s bench, he passed out and lost consciousness. He was later taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he spent the night “as per protocol/precaution as he is in a foreign country,” according to FIBA.
After the incident, players began shaking hands in anticipation that the game would be abandoned, but referees and officials opted to continue the competition. The players were visibly upset about the situation. Instead of continuing to battle each other, the two teams passively moved the ball around the 3-point line back to teammates and opponents, committing multiple shot clock violations and deliberate ball losses to avoid the risk of further injury while parents and observers stood in the stands and cheered. The score stayed at 78-63 until the end of the game.
Nearly 24 hours later, FIBA admitted its mistake and said it would investigate why players continued playing despite the risk of injury that the arena conditions posed.
“The game between Poland and Turkey should have been stopped by the referees because of the adverse indoor conditions,” FIBA wrote in a statement emailed to ESPN. “Our competition department will investigate this matter to determine why this did not happen.”
At the end of the Poland-Turkey game, another match between France and Sweden was immediately played in the same gym, a sloppy and uncompetitive affair that ended in a 38-point loss with the participants visibly doing their best to avoid injury. During the competition, due to the poor playing conditions, there were also several instances of players slipping up and down on the floor on the wet surface, but no injuries occurred.
With temperatures expected to soar above 100 degrees earlier in the week, FIBA seems unlikely to move the games out of the elementary school’s gymnasium, blaming “an extreme thunderstorm”. [which] affected the area. It was so severe that water seeped in from the roof of the Cair venue and games had to be suspended for a period of time to allow the floors to be mopped clean. All teams were consulted and agreed to proceed with the game program.
“The local organizers have carefully cleaned all areas and taken all necessary measures to avoid future problems.”
Representatives of the Polish and Turkish national teams declined to comment on the files on the situation, as well as their injured players.
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analysis service used by NBA, NCAA, and international teams.