RAMALLAH, West Bank — Yasmin Nayroukh, one of the few female referees in the Middle East, is now one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming an international referee.
The 29-year-old Palestinian from Hebron in the southern West Bank is the only female referee accredited to officiate all-male games in the West Bank. This young woman, known among players for her fairness and swift decision-making, is now getting ready to participate in the first round of the Asian Football Confederation referee exam slated to be held in Ramallah in May, followed by another exam round to be organized in Malaysia or Jordan.
On Oct. 20, the Palestinian Football Association nominated Nayroukh to the Asian Football Confederation 2018 international list for futsal referees. Futsal is a variant of soccer played with a smaller ball and field and five players per team.
Nayroukh told Al-Monitor that she had put in a lot of effort to become an internationally certified referee, “I have been intent to learn English, to keep abreast of all international and Asian rules and regulations and to exercise to improve my physical fitness,” she said, citing the preconditions to get a certificate.
Nayroukh started refereeing in 2010, officiating futsal championship games for women and men of every age category. She has refereed in nonprofessional and professional women's and men's soccer leagues, often in large stadiums.
She earned a good reputation in Hebron after presiding over several games for men, the latest being April 9, where she was a fourth referee in the game between Shabab al-Khalil and Hilal al-Quds Club at Faisal Hussein Stadium for the Youth League for players born in 1999.
The next day, she was assistant referee in the match between Tariq Bin Ziyad team and Shabab al-Khalil in the last week for the league for players born between 2004 and 2005. The match took place at Hussein bin Ali International Stadium in Hebron and she won acclaim for her performance.
“We thank Nayroukh for the great job she did in the game. She proved herself and outshone many male referees. She also corrected the referee’s decisions on a few occasions during the game,” Fayez al-Muhtaseb, coach for the Junior Shabab al-Khalil Club, told Al-Monitor.
“Players reacted positively toward Nayroukh because she did not make any unfair decisions against them. This is the second game for us in this league with Nayroukh as a referee. We consider her performance to be excellent,” he added.
She has gotten a mixed reaction from soccer fans. Mohammed al-Jaabari, a Shabab al-Khalil supporter, praised Nayroukh’s performance in an interview with Al-Monitor, saying he does not mind that women officiate men's games, especially if they prove they are up to the task. On the other hand, Jaabari’s friend Sami al-Natsha said female referees should stick to games where only women play.
Nayroukh’s journey to become a soccer game official began by happenstance while she was studying media at Hebron University in 2010. She joined a three-day course on refereeing in Hebron organized by the Palestinian Football Association. She was the only female among 50 young applicants from the West Bank.
Later in the year, Nayroukh was asked to referee in the futsal women’s championship in Ramallah.
In 2012, she ranked first in the Palestinian Football Association theoretical exam on soccer for women and was nominated by association President Jibril Rajoub to be a sports referee from Palestine to participate in the Asian festival of promising female soccer players held in Sri Lanka.
The same year, she was certified after passing a theoretical and physical fitness exam at a competition for elite referees organized by the Palestinian Football Association and sponsored by FIFA, the international soccer body.
In 2017, the Palestinian Football Association asked Nayroukh to officiate men’s matches in Hebron. The young Palestinian referee accepted, despite the challenges involved because of the social customs and traditions in a conservative community.
Nayroukh thus became the first Palestinian woman to referee soccer games for men in Hebron. “It was a successful experience. At first, the players did not accept me as a woman referee, but they eventually came around,” she told Al-Monitor.
Nayroukh is determined to continue this journey until she achieves her goals, despite all the challenges down this path.
She said her pursuit of her goals is not being done with "the aim of breaking or challenging customs and traditions. My family and friends respect my goals. But the community in general remains ‘patriarchal.’ Many do not appreciate that I participate in matches for men, they prefer that I officiate women's games only."
The young referee eventually shrugged off gender-based criticism. “I do not waste too much time over it. I focus on making sure that the rules of the game are adhered to and keep abreast of any developments in the field. Many of my male colleagues from the PFA [Palestinian Football Association] are helpful and supportive.”
“Supporting women referees in one of the PFA goals. Yasmin is among the outstanding and top referees as per the PFA classification. She is working on becoming an internationally certified referee for futsal for women and has participated in the FIFA referee competition that was held in Jordan to this effect,” the director of the association's Referee Department, Hussam al-Husseini, told Al-Monitor.
He said Nayroukh was part of the officiating team in the Palestinian Cup as a fourth referee, in addition to several other championships. “We are looking forward to seeing her participate in more games in order for her to gain more experience,” he said.
Husseini said the PFA wants to provide the necessary practical and theoretical training on a regular basis to develop the abilities of young female referees to officiate games in the women’s annual and professional leagues.
In addition to wanting to become an internationally certified referee, Nayroukh is also determined to continue her education as she aspires to obtain a master’s degree in sports journalism.