BREAKING! Jawahir Roble has become the UK’s first female Muslim referee in this sports’ history. And with only being 26 years-old, and a bright future ahead of her, she’s already set her sights on officiating in the top men’s division, the Premier League.
On a recent interview with BBC Sports, the UK’s first Muslim female referee said she is aiming to officiate at the highest level and she encourages other women to follow her path. But, let’s start from the beginning: Who is Jawahir Roble?
Jawahir Roble was just 10 when she took refuge in London with her family after fleeing civil war in Somalia. Leaving her home country, and all her friends, without a chance to say goodbye was understandably tough for Jawahir, who is known as JJ by her friends.
However, living next to Wembley Stadium and playing football in primary school were the first steps on her journey to becoming a referee.
In her interview, Roble discussed how she handled discrimination and her career goals, while she was learning English; especially after she arrived on British soil not knowing any English at all. She recalled her primary school classmates being “confused” as she struggled to communicate, but she was able to settle in quickly because of her shared love of a different language.
“I didn’t speak English but football was there from day one,” she said. “I would bring my own ball and whoever has the ball at primary school is at the top. All the boys and girls would play with me and it was the best feeling.
“In the classroom, it was all grammar and I was so confused but the only time I was actually trying to speak was when I was playing with the kids. I would say ‘please pass me the ball’, ‘thank you’ and ‘shoot’.
“Words would just come out naturally and I was like, damn, I’m speaking English.”
Roble said she dreamt of representing England as a professional footballer, but her parents encouraged her to pursue a “normal” career.
“I wanted to play for England but my parents were like it was never going to happen,” she said, “They wanted me to study and get a normal job like girls do.
“The transition from wanting to become a player to a referee happened just because I wanted to try something new, and volunteered for the local girls league.
“Trying new things is the best thing you can do.”
Having taken charge of both women’s and men’s amateur matches while wearing a hijab, Roble said what she used to find shocking has now become an amusement.
“When I first go to the ground I do not wear my kit, and so I go to the groundsman and say ‘hello sir, I’m the referee today, please can you give me a changing room?’
“Then it’s usually: ‘Are you?’
“At the beginning, I was wondering why they would be surprised, but now I can’t wait to say it and you get used to it. I like the shock.”
Moreover, her steely resilience also extends to many football players.
“If I ever receive abuse I would stand up,” she added,“During a game, some players might say things like ‘this is a man’s game’. I say it’s a man’s game and a woman’s game. You just missed the goal and you are having a mare so focus on yourself.
“After the game finishes they usually apologise.”
Despite saying her unique position as the only Muslim female referee is a “title that does not change anything about me”, Roble recognises her importance in inspiring the next cohort of women referees.
JJ, who’s also the subject of a UEFA ‘We Play Strong’ mini documentary, says the development of female officials has to be encouraged.
“In terms of increasing the level of female referees, I would say celebrate each one and support them,” she said, “The women’s game is growing and referees have to progress alongside it. Encourage, encourage, encourage.”
At last, asked how far she would like to take her career, Jawahir, excited, concluded:
“Refereeing a women’s final or men’s final and as high as I can get.
“I have completed university and I would classify myself as a full-time athlete, so watch out for me, I’m coming.”