UK’s first female Muslim referee hopes to inspire next generation

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Arabian Business
Monday September 21, 2020

Jawahar ‘JJ’ Roble sets sights on Premier League, 16 years after fleeing war-torn Somalia


Roble referees both men and women up to five times a day in the lower ranks of English football.

Jawahar ‘JJ’ Roble was just 10 when she fled Somalia for England. Today she’s the UK’s first female Muslim referee – with her sights set on officiating in the Premier League.

The 26-year-old former refugee comes armed with a coaching degree, FA qualifications, and a fearsome drive that’s propelling her to the top of her game.

“From the age of four, I knew I loved football. I used to beg the boys to let me play with them,” she says. “Eventually I started beating them.

“Once you start playing, it’s all you know… when you’re on the pitch, nothing else matters.”

Her entire family – including eight siblings – spoke no English when they arrived in Wembley, the home of English football.

 

“It was very difficult, we all struggled,” says Roble. But in London, she was amazed to see that football was more “organised” than her birth country.

 

“They had proper kits, proper leagues and they even had girls teams,” she says. “In Somalia, girls are told they can’t play, but in England you can join the national team if you’re very good.”

Although Roble dreamt of playing football professionally, her parents forbade it, which led her into new passions – coaching and refereeing.

While volunteering as a coach at a local club, she was asked to referee a small game out of necessity. “I was on the sidelines coaching and someone did not turn up for a game,” Roble recalls. “I was given a pen, paper, raincoat, and asked to step in. I was a bit scared but I just went for it.”

She’s never looked back. She now referees both men and women up to five times a day in the lower ranks of English football.

“I love the game. Something inside me wants to be good. I missed playing football and now I want to put all my effort into refereeing because that’s one way I can become professional.”

Roble says she is proud of being the first Muslim female referee in what is traditionally a man’s game.

“But it’s also shocking that I am only one like me because there are so many Muslim girls in this country  – we need to encourage more girls into the sport.”

The referee says she didn’t have role models growing up but she’d like to be one for young girls as she ascends the ranks of football officiating in a notoriously tough field.

“Sometimes people are shocked when I turn up and I don’t blame them. It’s unusual for a woman to be in a man’s area and then there’s my hijab,” she says. “They think I’m in the wrong place; they think it’s a joke.”

“But they don’t know how much I love football,” the referee says. “I put extra into everything I do because I don’t want to let down everything that I represent – I’m representing women, Islam, myself, my country – there are so many things that I represent.”