First Arab woman 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.

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. —APP

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