Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - First Arab woman basketball referee to stand tall at Olympics



First Arab woman basketball referee to stand tall at Olympics

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Egyptian Basketball referee Sarah Gamal gestures while holding a ball during a match between the Al-Ittihad and Al-Geish teams on April 17, 2021. Hazem GOUDA / AFP

First Arab woman basketball referee to stand tall at Olympics

When 3-on-3 basketball makes its debut at the Tokyo Olympics, referee Sarah Gamal will also be making a breakthrough, as an Arab and African woman officiating at the Games.

Wearing a black veil emblazoned with a sports company's logo, Gamal stands tall among the high-flying male players at Alexandria United Club, a powerhouse of Egyptian basketball with a rowdy fanbase.

"From the start of my journey as a referee, I haven't heard one negative comment or faced any obstacles to me being a veiled woman. The veil for me is normal and doesn't cause any problems," the 32-year-old told AFP.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) changed its rules in 2017 to allow players to wear the hijab (veil) under certain conditions.

To attract a younger international fanbase, FIBA adopted the 3 on 3 competition popular on public courts around the world before the format was added to the Tokyo Olympic programme in 2017.

Games are played on a half court with one basket, as opposed to the traditional end-to-end full-court play in the five against five game. To win, a team must reach 21 points first or outscore their opponents over two 10-minute halves.

No fear of men

Gamal has had plenty of experience blazing a trail for aspiring women referees and players including at the FIBA World Youth Cup in 2018 in Belarus and at the African Women's Championship in 2017.

"The veil hasn't affected my refereeing in any tournament so far and to prove it I'm ready to take on the Tokyo Olympics," she said. "My thinking is focused on training and proper preparation to perform at this important event."

Working in a male-dominated industry as a civil engineer in Alexandria, she is not afraid of officiating male athletes on hardwood courts.

"I have refereed men's games in the past and I have had a lot of success running them which garnered the confidence of Egypt's refereeing committee... It's the usual for me."

Gamal fell in love with the game at five years old learning from her older sister.

"I was five when I started hooping. That helped me to organise my time between studying and training. It's all thanks to my mother, who ran a tight ship, until I reached university and studied civil engineering," she told to AFP.

"It was difficult, especially since it's a field that requires studying hard and exerting a lot of effort mentally," she said.

She is eager to show off her skills and experience at the Olympics.

"My family is still beaming with the news of my selection. It's a great reward for all the sweat and tears I've had to go through in recent years," said Gamal

She started as a player and switched to refereeing at 16 "because I had a great passion for a deeper understanding of the rules".

"My family has been completely supportive," she added.

'Feeling responsible'

"Being the first Arab and African woman refereeing 3 on 3 games at the Olympics is a positive. There's no pressure on me and I am confident that this step will pave the way for other Arab and African women referees," she said.

"There's nothing that really scares me, but I do feel responsible," Gamal added.

She stressed that her family are fine with her travelling during a global pandemic provided she takes precautions.

"My family are a bit worried when I travel... but that has not diminished their enthusiastic support to me," Gamal said.

As she prepares to hit the court in Tokyo, Gamal has her sights on her next goals.

"I want to make it to the men and women's World Cups and to maintain the trust the international body has put in me so far."

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be