Sarah Gamal: First Muslim female basketball referee at Olympics

Hijab-wearing Sarah Gamal will be the first Arab Muslim and African woman to referee 3-on-3 basketball games at the 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 Muslim and African woman officiating at the Games.

Wearing a black hijab – a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion – 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 news agency.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) changed its rules in 2017 to allow players to wear the hijab 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 5-on-5 game. To win, a team must reach 21 points first or outscore their opponents over two 10-minute halves.

Gamal has had plenty of experience blazing a trail for aspiring female 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 [hijab] 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.”

Gamal fell in love with the game at the age of five, 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.- Al-Jazeera

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