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Pro Kabaddi League 2017 Season 5 : Meet the female Iranian referee with an engineering degree

Leila is a former international kabaddi player, a qualified engineer and an expert at bonus points.

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Exclusive 24 Oct 2017, 12:37 IST
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Leila Seifi
Leila Seifi

She has played for the Iranian National team on multiple occasions, was a referee at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat where India beat Iran in a closely contested final, successfully graduated as an electrical engineer and has given birth two children in the last decade. 

But Leila Seifi says the only time she is truly scared is when she is asked to correctly spot a bonus point in the Pro Kabaddi League. A number of experienced officials have got it wrong, especially in season 5 and at times, have been at the receiving end of unsavoury rants from the league’s top players. 

“In Iran, I am an expert at spotting bonus points and everybody knows me for this. But here, players execute the bonus point really quickly and I find it difficult to do it. I don’t have enough confidence. It’s really different here,” she says. 

Unsure about how her name is spelt, Leila attempts to provide clarity to the writer by mouthing the chorus of the evergreen track from Qurbani – ‘Laila Ho Laila’, recently made relevant by Sunny Leone. 

The excitement in her tone is palpable. In what is her debut season as a referee in the Pro Kabaddi League, Leila is still coming to grips with the speed at which the game is played here. Despite ten years of experience behind her, it’s only lately that Seifi has learnt about the gulf in gap in her home town of Semnan, Iran compared to India. 

Her career as an official began in 2007. Grinding it out for twelve months in local tournaments resulted in an invite from the Iranian Kabaddi Federation to officiate at the 2008 Asian Women Championships which was held in her home country. 

Prior to 2007, Leila began playing the sport professionally in 2004 and in 2006, she was given the opportunity to play for the Iranian national team. 

She grabbed it with both hands but her short lived playing career came to an abrupt halt after the birth of her first child in 2007. Shifting residences didn’t help her cause. “After marriage, I changed residences and they didn’t have a good team in my new locality,” she states. 

With an electronic engineering degree in her hand, she surely had something promising waiting for her. Back in Iran, Leila is the founder of a startup that specializes in harnessing solar energy. “I have a full-time job as an electrical engineer in Semnan, Iran from 7.30 to 2.30 pm then after that my job as a mother starts.”

But her positive experiences with the game ensured that she remained close to the sport. Realizing that patience and persistence was the key, from 2007 to 2016, Leila was and continues to juggle multiple responsibilities – as a mother, engineer and referee. During this time, she also sat for four technical exams to hone and cement her skills as an official. 

Last year, her imminent break finally came calling. Leila was selected to be part of the officiating team at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. She spent a good one month in Ahmedabad, using the opportunity to interact with the Indian Kabaddi Federation fellow referees. 

Impressed with her focus and confidence, the Pro Kabaddi League decided to induct her into the officiating team for season 5. The schedule is hectic. When she does manage to get that rare off day, Leila forgets that she isn’t required to play adjudicator.

“I really enjoy referring, sometimes I don’t even get to enjoy the match because I am only focused on officiating the game. I need to remind myself that at times, I am not a referee and I need to enjoy the match as a spectator.”

Her officiating career has been an interesting learning process, a process that continues to test her knowledge. There have been times when self-doubt has crept in, but Leila seems intent on establishing herself and is ready to put in the work. 

“During Pro Kabaddi, the technical director keeps testing you. They want to know if we can do our job well. It’s my first season, I’ve done this job in my country as well and it isn’t a problem there. But Pro Kabaddi is at such a high level.”

Ask her what keeps her going and she has a straight forward reply - “I have a very good husband, he supports me, and I am so happy about it!”

Post the tournament, Leila will travel back to Iran where she will be officiating at the Iranian Premier Kabaddi League. Her mind though is set on one upcoming competition, a competition which she believes could spring some surprises.

“We have the Asian Kabaddi Championships in Iran in November 2018, we are waiting for the Indian team to come there,” she signs off.

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