At a recent basketball match in the Gaza Strip the spectators were transfixed, less so by the action on the court than the fact the referee was a young woman.
Amira Ismail, 23, who officiated the Gaza City-Nuseirat match, has been making history in the Israel-blockaded Palestinian enclave ruled by the Islamist group Hamas since 2007.
“Everyone looks at me in amazement on the basketball court, wondering, ‘who is she? Is she a foreigner or an Arab? What is she doing here?'” Ismail told AFP.
Her passion for basketball motivated Ismail to seek a refereeing license from the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), which she earned three years ago after passing online exams.
But due to social pressures, and then a long pause forced by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ismail had yet to officiate a match — until this year.
“This time around, I was determined to get out there and use my international license on the field, because I deserve it,” she said, clad in azure-colored sportswear that matched her eyes.
So far this year, Ismail, who works day shifts in a hospital after completing her bachelor’s degree in pharmacology, has refereed five men’s matches, each time attracting curious glances.
Crowd sizes are still limited due to pandemic-linked restrictions. But Ismail said she is bracing for the post-coronavirus world, when more people will attend games and more eyes will be on her.
There are 15 FIBA-certified referees in Gaza, Ismail and 14 men, and they officiate the matches of the four women’s teams and 12 men’s teams.