Somali-born Jawahir Roble became UK’s first female Muslim referee at just 23 years old

Jawahir Roble (above) officiates a game for the Football Beyond Borders charity (Rex Features)
Her hijab in the field is what gets the attention of the spectators, and many including herself wonder:

“Who would ever think a black, Somali-born immigrant girl with eight siblings could ref a men’s game in England with a hijab on?”

Born in Somalia, Jawahir Roble, known as Jawahir Jewels or JJ to her friends, grew up in London with her parents and eight siblings.

She grew up playing football in their garden, but she was still regarded with scepticism.

“My parents were not so keen on my involvement in football at first because they thought I was embarrassing them. In my culture, you wouldn’t see many girls interested in football,” she said to UK outlet, Standard.

She earned a grant in 2013, which contributed to the launch of the Middlesex FA Women’s League with a new Desi division for girls, by Ciara Allan, the county FA women and girls football development officer. When she was 19, she took her football skills to another level: encouraging other Muslim girls to play the game.

Her first venture as a referee in the field was met with giggles.

“When I first turned up to the match you could hear some boys just giggling, ‘No way she is the ref? No!’ she said, adding that they eventually accepted her.

She has also been at the receiving end of criticism from religious conservatives, who have accused her of not respecting the religion and the Islamic culture. This does not bother her, especially since she is ‘here to break the stereotypes’.

“Of course, football is not in my culture, no. But you know, I am here to break the stereotypes. Girls can play football, girls can do whatever they want.”

JJ, now in university studying IT, views refereeing as a way to stretch herself and give her things to do at her leisure time.

“It’s helped loads in my university life. If you’re just chilling the whole time, man that’s boring. It’s good to stretch yourself, to test yourself. Decision-making, being strong: you learn so many values from being a ref. And what I love is, get it right, they trust you,”  she says.

Her dedication earned her the 2017  Respect Awards (together with 11 other) and the Match Official prize. She has also received recognition for her volunteering work in Middlesex, including the Football Beyond Borders award.

JJ holds a Level Six refereeing qualification (County Referees, Supply League Assistant Referee) and is hoping to get to the level of refereeing in the Women’s Super League.

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