Sarah Gamal: First female Arab-African basketball referee at the Olympics

Sarah Gamal will officiate for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics. (Source: Middle-East Online)
Sarah Gamal will officiate for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics. (Source: Middle-East Online)
Kaushiik Paul

Sarah Gamal will be making history at the Tokyo Olympics when the quadrennial event kicks off on July 23.

Among the disciplines making their Olympic debut in Tokyo is the 3-on-3 basketball, where Gamal will become the first Arab and African woman to officiate at the Summer Games.

Wearing a hijab – a head covering generally worn in public by Muslim women – wasn’t accepted in sports earlier. But with times changing, the hijab has also made its way to the sports’ grandest stage. The 2016 Rio Olympics will be remembered as the one where a lot of women athletes participated wearing hijab.

As she gears up for the Tokyo Olympics, Sarah Gamal has said that she hasn't faced any hassles wearing the hijab.

“From the start of my journey as a referee, I haven’t heard one negative comment or faced any obstacles, being a veiled woman. The veil for me is normal and doesn’t cause any problems,” the 32-year-old was quoted as saying to AFP.
“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. My thinking is focused on training and proper preparation to perform at this important event," Gamal added.

Sarah Gamal started playing basketball at the age of 5

Sarah Gamal’s tryst with basketball started at the age of five, thanks to her older sister. She immediately fell in love with the game and started training in between studying. Much of the credit also goes to her mother, who played a crucial role in Sarah Gamal’s growing up days.

However, Gamal was more passionate about knowing the rules of the sport, so she shifted her focus to refereeing at the age of 16. There was no looking back since then as she went on to officiate at the African Women’s Championship in 2017 and the FIBA World Youth Cup in 2018 in Belarus.

Sarah Gamal has officiated in men's basketball matches. (Souce: Arab News)
Sarah Gamal has officiated in men's basketball matches. (Souce: Arab News)

Having made a place for herself in the male-dominated industry, Gamal isn’t afraid to take on the baton once again and show her skills in Tokyo. Her experiences from the past will boost her confidence.

“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. There’s nothing that really scares me, but I do feel responsible," said Sarah Gamal.

Sarah Gamal aims to learn a lot from Tokyo Olympics

With less than 100 days left until the Tokyo Olympics, Sarah Gamal has set her sights on the big-ticket event. She believes that her participation will inspire other young Arab and African women to become referees.

“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.
“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. 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,” concluded Sarah Gamal.

Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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