From basketball and boxing, to tennis and truck racing, women’s sports are still by and large in a development phase in terms of maintaining a cultural footprint with the mainstream public.
To wit, many of the calendar’s major women’s sports events — the Olympics, Wimbledon, UFC pay-per-views, etc. — often feel like something bigger than just another opportunity to crown the next champion. Each one feels like another opportunity to push that particular women’s sport forward in its evolution and popularity.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is one such event.
Twenty-four national teams gathered in France last month for the beginning of the tournament to decide the world’s best in women’s soccer. The final will be played on July 7 between the United State and the Netherlands.
The British publication The Guardian recently published a feature on a young woman named Jawahir Roble that referenced the greater importance of this World Cup.
As World Cup fever grips the UK, the girls’ enthusiasm for the training session is matched by their obvious adoration of their coach and referee, Jawahir Roble, known as JJ to her friends.
The training is part of a nationwide initiative sponsored by the English Football Association and aimed to benefit more than 20,000 girls aged five to 11 across the country. The programme, which was launched by the FA in 2017, aims to double girls’ participation in the sport by 2020.
But it is Roble, a Somali refugee who used to play football against a backdrop of gunshots, who has truly broken through the barriers to reach this pitch. She is the first female Muslim referee in British football.
Roble has stated her goal is to work as a referee at the next Women’s World Cup in 2023, plus she also wants to open a training academy in her native country.
Somalia, a Muslim-majority nation, has been involved in a civil war and has endured socioeconomic strife for decades.
Roble grew up in Somalia playing soccer, using everything from potatoes to old newspapers to make soccer balls. Her family fled the country when she was a child and settled in the United Kingdom.
She continued playing soccer throughout her youth. As she grew older, Roble got into coaching and eventually became a licensed referee — probably the most thankless job in sports.
“Once I am in the pitch and I blow the whistle to start the game, I am not a refugee, my hijab does not matter, my gender or colour of my skin does not matter,” Roble was quoted in The Guardian. “I am a referee and I know how to do my job well, that is it.”