A FIBA U18 European Championship game in Nis, Serbia, ended in controversy Saturday as members of the Polish and Turkish junior national teams refused to compete for the final five minutes of their game in protest of playing conditions, an unprecedented event at the national team level and one FIBA says it is investigating.
Heavy rains produced extreme humidity in an already sweltering Mika Antic elementary school gym with little to no air conditioning, creating a dangerous environment that caused injuries to several participants, resulting in the players' decision to not meaningfully compete for the final minutes of the contest.
Early in the third quarter, Turkish guard Yagiz Aksu slipped and suffered a groin injury while casually bringing the ball up the court, causing him to collapse in pain. He missed the remainder of the game and his team's subsequent contest Sunday.
With five minutes remaining, Polish power forward Jakub Szumert lost his balance pursuing a loose ball on the wet court and landed violently on his chest, rolling over several times in pain. While making his way to his team's bench, he fainted and lost consciousness. He was later rushed in an ambulance to a local hospital where he spent the night, "per protocol/precaution since he is in a foreign country," according to FIBA.
Players began to shake hands following the incident, anticipating the game would be called, but referees and officials elected to continue the contest. Players were visibly upset with the situation. Instead of continuing to compete, the two teams passively moved the ball back around the 3-point line to teammates and opponents while incurring multiple shot clock violations and intentional turnovers to avoid the risk of additional injury, while parents and observers stood and cheered from the stands. The score remained level at 78-63 through the end of the game.
Nearly 24 hours later, FIBA acknowledged its error and vowed to examine why players were told to continue to play despite the injury risk presented by the arena's conditions.
"The game between Poland and Turkey should have been stopped by the game officials because of the adverse conditions inside that gym," FIBA wrote in an emailed statement to ESPN. "Our Competitions department will investigate this matter to understand why it was not done."
At the conclusion of the Poland-Turkey game, another contest was played immediately in the same gym between France and Sweden, a sloppy and uncompetitive affair that ended in a 38-point blowout in which participants were visibly doing their best to avoid injury. The contest also saw several instances of players sliding up and down the floor on the wet surface, but no injuries.
With temperatures expected to rise past 100 degrees early in the week, FIBA appears unlikely to move the games from the elementary school gym, blaming "an extreme thunderstorm [which] affected the area. It was so strong that water came in from the roof of the Cair venue, and the games had to be stopped for a period of time, for the floors to be wiped clean. All teams were consulted and agreed to proceed with the program of games.
"Local organizers proceeded to carefully clean all areas and all necessary measures were taken to avoid any issues going forward."
Representatives of the Polish and Turkish national teams declined to comment on the record about the situation, as well as their injured players.
Szumert returned to the court Tuesday to play 18 minutes but went back to the hospital after experiencing breathing difficulties during practice, his agent Grzegorz Kulig told ESPN. Szumert is in stable condition but will leave Serbia to receive treatment in his native Poland, Kulig said.
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service used by NBA, NCAA and international teams.